Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Secretary of State John Kerry that the South China Sea belongs to his country and they have every right to defend their territory, despite a lack of evidence China ever legally controlled the territory it claims in the region.
“The islands in the South China Sea have been China’s territory since ancient times, and China has the right to safeguard its territorial sovereignty,” he stated at a press conference with Kerry. “At the same time, we insist that the issue should be solved peacefully through dialogue and consultations.”
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently found evidence that the Chinese are building “a radar system on Cuateron Reef in the Spratlys, one of many locations where China has constructed artificial land on reefs that are widely considered to be in international waters.” Experts believe this construction will hinder the U.S.’s ability to operate in the sea.
“This would be very important in a Chinese anti-access area denial strategy that sought to reduce the ability of the U.S. to operate freely in the South China Sea, including bringing forces up through the South China Sea in case of any future crisis in Northeast Asia,” Gregory Polling, head of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS, told The Washington Post.
Kerry echoed Polling’s statements at the press conference, but Wang insisted no one has any trouble navigating the sea.
“In fact, there has never been such a problem with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” he said. “The situation in the South China Sea is overall stable.”
Over $5 trillion worth of goods pass through the South China Sea every year.
Images from The Diplomat showed China has begun construction on the Paracel Islands, “following years of work building artificial islands in the Spratly Archipelago.” The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Malaysia have all claimed rights to these islands.
“We have been very clear that it is important for all of the nations — China, the Philippines, Vietnam, others — not to engage in any unilateral steps of reclamation, of building, of militarization,” stated Kerry. “The fact is there have been steps by China, by Vietnam, by others that have unfortunately created an escalatory cycle. What we’re trying to do is break that.”
China built new constructions only 15 kilometers from Woody Island, which houses a Chinese military base. A year ago, The Diplomat showed the base “undergoing a major expansion of its runway and airport facilities,” which included a “new concrete runway measuring 2,920 meters in length, accompanied by a new taxiway, expanded runway aprons and adjacent large buildings under construction.”
Satellite images have shown surface-to-air missiles placed on islands in the South China Sea.
“The imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) shows two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island,” reported Fox News, who also claimed the islands received the systems between February 3 and 14.
China claims all construction “is strictly civilian” and “the facilities on the Spratly Islands are for weather monitoring and civilian rescue.”
Wang also protested that media have focused on China when other nations allegedly militarize the islands, “including missel [sic] destroyers and strategic bombers.”
“The demilitarization needs efforts of all parties, not only China, but also the United States and ASEAN countries,” he concluded.