The Chinese government’s most senior man in Europe has hit back at Western nations criticising China’s island development in the South China Sea, saying they have double standards over the issue.
Ambassador Wu Jianmin, who sits on China’s influential Foreign Policy Advisory Group said at the Chatham House London Conference on Friday that 85 per cent of national trade went through the South China Sea – making expanding China’s presence there absolutely imperative.
Responding to questions from the floor about sea reclamation, Jianmin said:
“[Over 30 years] our neighbours did a lot, China did nothing. So the Chinese government, under public pressure, they start reclaiming land from the sea on the basis of the reefs that belong to China. What’s wrong? Our neighbours did that a lot, and no-one said anything. When China does it, it’s a big crime”.
The disagreement has come over China’s creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea, making new sovereign territory by dumping rocks and sands on reefs, very often in contested waters.
Significant concern over the potential use of the islands has been raised by the United States and its allies who note the construction of harbours, communications and surveillance systems, logistics support, and a runway.
One such island (pictured above) which has been created with the apparently express intention of having an air base in the middle of the sea, has been dubbed China’s ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’. At the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ major South-East Asia security summit this year China played down the military significance of the island, insisting it was intended to instead fulfil their obligation to provide maritime search and rescue in the region.
Admiral Sun Jianguo told the summit the Chinese would be using the Island to engage in “maritime scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, safety of navigation, and fishery production services”, but Western leaders remain unconvinced. Experienced China-watchers know the protection of fisheries to China is a convenient euphemism for the ongoing proxy-war between Japan and China, fought with respective coast-guards over sea-space.
The conflict over the possession of small, often uninhabited outcrops of rock in the seas between China, Taiwan, and Japan have now for years been one of the biggest threats to peace in East Asia, as the three powerful nations jostle for control. Although in most cases of no strategic importance in of themselves, the islands if lawfully possessed give claim to the precious territorial waters around them, which may yield oil and gas, or control over sea lanes through which trade flows.
Watch: Ambassador Jianmin speaks in London: