The Chinese foreign ministry released its latest belligerent statement indicating the country has nearly completed its illegal South China Sea island construction projects. Even as China signaled an end to its dredging activities, it continues to build military bases on the islands, a fact which it conveniently buried in the press release.
“Apart from satisfying the need of necessary military defense, the main purpose of China's construction activities is to meet various civilian demands and better perform China's international obligations,” the foreign ministry started with, before vaguely stating that “after the land reclamation, we will start the building of facilities to meet relevant functional requirements.”
As one of the “relevant functional requirements” is “satisfying the need of necessary military defense,” China will continue to construct precisely the type of facilities on the islands that have become the subject of intense international controversy.
The essence of China's announcement is that it is simply shifting work on disputed South China Sea islands from creating land in the middle of the sea to constructing military facilities. In short, its pushing forward with a program that has deeply aggravated tensions with the U.S. and more importantly its Asian neighbors.
“This is a step toward halting land reclamation, which the U.S. has demanded, and at the same time, China can tell its people that it has accomplished what it wanted to do,” said Huang Jing, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the Singapore-based Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
“China unilaterally started the land reclamation and now China is unilaterally stopping it,” Mr. Huang said. “China is showing that—as a major power—it can control escalation, that it has the initiative, and that it can do what it sees fit for its interests.”
The Philippines’ Foreign Ministry as well as the foreign ministries of Vietnamese Malaysia declined to comment on the statement.
The timing of China’s statement comes on the final day for China to submit comments to an international arbitration tribunal that is weighing the Philippines’ territorial claims in the South China Sea.
China has made clear it wants nothing to do with the arbitration proceedings in The Hague, contending that The United Nations has no jurisdiction, and that it will not recognize the tribunal's verdict.
The statements by China are typical of Chinese foreign policy - say one thing, do the other. The heavily censored country seems to lack awareness of just how closely scrutinized its actions are, as well as the response they will trigger from its neighbors, both economically and militarily.
In addition to stalling trade, the Chinese land grabs have led Vietnam, one of the strongest and most battle tested armies in the region, to purchase sophisticated U.S. weapons systems, which we covered here.