US calls for halt to land reclamation in South China Sea

Defence secretary Ashton Carter issues warning over Chinese activity in disputed area.
A crewman aboard a US Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft points to a computer screen showing Chinese construction on the reclaimed land of Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea May 21, 2015. US Navy via Reuters
A crewman aboard a US Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft points to a computer screen showing Chinese construction on the reclaimed land of Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea May 21, 2015. US Navy via Reuters

Singapore // The United States on Saturday called for an immediate halt to China’s land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea and vowed to continue sending military aircraft and ships to the tense region.

Beijing’s behaviour is “out of step” with international norms, the US defence secretary Ashton Carter said at a high-level security conference in Singapore.

“First, we want a peaceful resolution of all disputes. To that end, there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants,” Mr Carter told the annual Shangri-La Dialogue on security, with a Chinese military delegation in the audience.

“We also oppose any further militarisation of disputed features,” he said.

He acknowledged that other claimants had developed outposts of differing scope and degree, including Vietnam with 48, the Philippines with eight, Malaysia with five and Taiwan with one.

“Yet, one country has gone much farther and much faster than any other.

“China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined and more than in the entire history of the region. And China did so in only the last 18 months,” Mr Carter said.

“It is unclear how much farther China will go. That is why this stretch of water has become the source of tension in the region and front-page news around the world.”

China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves.

During a question and answer session after Mr Carter’s speech, a Chinese military official said the criticism was “groundless and not constructive”.

“Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is not at all an issue because the freedom has never been affected,” said Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo from China’s Academy of Military Science.

The head of the Chinese delegation, Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff department at the People’s Liberation Army, is scheduled to address the forum on Sunday.

Last week the Chinese military ordered a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft to leave an area above the heavily disputed Spratly Islands. The American plane ignored the demand.

“There should be no mistake: the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as US forces do all around the world,” Mr Carter said.

“After all, turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.”

Washington on Friday accused China of deploying two artillery pieces on one of its artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The heavy weapons, since removed, posed no security threat but their positioning – within range of territory claimed by Vietnam – underscored Washington’s concerns that China is pursuing a massive island-building project for military purposes, US officials said.

In his speech, Mr Carter urged China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to adopt a “code of conduct” in the disputed waters.

Along with Vietnam, fellow Asean members the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all claim parts of the sea, as does Taiwan.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: May 30, 2015 04:00 AM

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