The Chinese government announced in an official statement on Tuesday that it would “complete” the usurpation of Philippine, Vietnamese, and territory of other nations in the South China Sea “soon.” No timeline was given, nor were any geographic limits set to the expansion in the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
“China will complete its reclamation project soon as part of its South China Sea construction in parts of the Nansha islands,” announced the Chinese Foreign Ministry today. “It is learned from relevant Chinese competent departments that, as planned, the land reclamation project of China’s construction on some stationed islands and reefs of the Nansha [Spratly] Islands will be completed in the upcoming days,” it continues, “After the land reclamation, we will start the building of facilities to meet relevant functional requirements.”
The statement does not provide a date, nor does it clarify the meaning of a completion of the “reclamation project,” particularly in light of the announcement that China will begin building “facilities” on the disputed territory after the reclamation is complete.
Satellite images show that China long ago began building facilities — aircraft landing strips, military radar facilities, and, soon, two lighthouses — in the reefs near the Spratly Islands.
Some claim the statement should make nervous neighbors like Vietnam and the Philippines jealous.
“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,” Huang Jing, an expert on Chinese foreign policy in Singapore, tells The Wall Street Journal. “China unilaterally started the land reclamation and now China is unilaterally stopping it,” he notes. The newspaper reports that the Philippines has announced it is “awaiting official confirmation” of the statement before commenting, while the foreign ministries of Malaysia and the Philippines refused to comment.
The news follows a week of escalating tensions with Vietnam, whose government is accusing China of attacking yet another civilian fishing vessel. Chinese boats allegedly forced a Vietnamese fishing ship out of the Paracel Islands last week, using a water cannon that nearly destroyed the entire ship and left at least one occupant injured with a broken leg. The Vietnamese government eventually removed the offending Chinese ship using “necessary measures.” In a sign the Vietnamese government is not open to forgetting such transgressions rapidly, the injured man has appeared multiple times on Vietnamese television, his cast clearly visible.
Philippine anglers have also been the victims of Chinese belligerence, and those who now fear fishing in the lush waters of the Spratly Islands have objected to their incomes dwindling as they have little left to sell. The government of the Philippines has used blunt language to condemn China’s incursion in the region, comparing the South China Sea to the Sudetenland and the Chinese government to Nazi Germany.
Malaysia, which also has claimed in the South China Sea, has remained quiet during much of the dispute, as China is its largest trading partner and it has much to lose from an openly acrimonious relationship with China. The South China Sea has proven a venue for danger on the part of Malaysia itself, however: Two oil tankers have gone missing in the region in the past week. The MT Orkim Harmony is believed to have been the target of pirates in the region looking to steal fuel and sell it on the black market, and experts believe it may be in Vietnamese waters. A second oil tanker, the Orkim Victory, was hijacked and robbed, though pirates quickly released the crew upon ravaging its inventory.
The government of China has repeatedly refused to acknowledge that any waters in the South China Sea belong to any nation other than China.