In a significant development in the disputed South China Sea, China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres of land.
In recent months, China’s focus has shifted to developing and weaponising the man-made islands. According to a new Pentagon report released on May 13, China seeks to have greater control over the maritime region without resorting to armed conflict.
Assessing China’s island-building programme in detail, the defense department said that three of the land features in the Spratly Islands now have nearly 10,000-foot runways and large ports. These are in various stages of construction. China has excavated deep channels, created and dredged harbours apart from constructing communications, logistics and intelligence-gathering facilities.
Arguing that the accelerated building effort does not give China any new territorial rights, the report says that the airfields, ship facilities, surveillance and weapons equipment will allow Beijing to significantly enhance its long-term presence in the South China Sea. “This would improve China’s ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties, widen the range of capabilities available to China, and reduce the time required to deploy them”, the report said.
“China is using coercive tactics short of armed conflict, such as the use of law enforcement vessels for maritime claims, to advance their interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict”, the report added.
China’s reclaimed 3,200 acres in the Spratly islands does not include its building in the Paracels—further northwest, including the contested Woody Island—in its estimates. China has deployed anti-aircraft missiles to Woody Island. The Pentagon refused to divulge details on the amount of increased reclamation in the Paracels. The report also refused to provide a more concrete estimate of the increase in building of the Spratly Islands.
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