Tensions got higher in the Pacific on Friday as U.S. defense officials said they have detected artillery on artificial islands being illegally built by China, in what has been described as a "disturbing and escalatory" development in the dispute.
The U.S. military is understood to have made the discovery a few weeks ago. Defense called on China this week for land reclamation in the disputed region to be brought to an immediate end, as Defense Secretary Ashton pushed China and other countries near the sea to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, said of the discovery:
"It is a disturbing development and escalatory development, one which heightens our need to make the Chinese understand that their actions are in violation of international law and their actions are going to be condemned by everyone in the world."
"We are not going to have a conflict with China but we can take certain measures which will be a disincentive to China to continue these kinds of activities," he said.
The dispute has angered the whole region. The U.S. has not been directly involved, but has stood to support allies who have repeatedly called on the U.S. Navy to help protect their territorial waters from Chinese aggression.
China's reasoning for reclaiming the islands remains a mystery. It could be an effort to provide a diversionary war, should the there be a popular uprising against China's corrupt communist party. It's also possible the output is there to enable illegal Chinese fishing, which we covered recently, that remains a scourge of international waters. Chinese has depleted its own supply of fish through over-fishing and must now steal fish from its neighbors.