Chinese media: Tough US line on South China Sea islands would risk war

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Chinese media reacted defiantly after prospective US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Beijing would be barred access to parts of the South China Sea. Editorials warned that such actions could lead to war.

Chinese state media on Friday warned that the US risked a “devastating confrontation” with China if it blocked Beijing’s access to artificial island structures it is building in the South China Sea.

Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee to become Secretary of State, told US senators he would seek to deny China access to the islands. The former oil executive explicitly said that the territories “are not rightfully China’s,” and compared Beijing’s actions in the region with Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

“First the island building stops, and second your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed,” Tillerson asserted the message to Beijing should be.

The warning drew ire from official Chinese media, which said any such US actions would risk war between the two global powers. An opinion piece in the Chinese state-owned China Daily newspaper accused Tillerson of “undisguised animosity toward China.”

“As many have observed, it would set a course for devastating confrontation between China and the US,” said the newspaper’s US edition. “After all, how can the US deny China access to its own territories without inviting the latter’s legitimate, defensive responses?”

‘Most radical statement’

A separate editorial on the English website of China’s state-owned Global Times newspaper speculated that Tillerson’s “bluster” might be “just a bluff” for the US Senate, which must approve his nomination.

The editorial noted that Tillerson – former boss of ExxonMobil – had also mentioned that US and Chinese economic and security interests were deeply intertwined.

“It is not clear which point, among the many he made, he will prioritize. But it is worth looking at his remarks that China should not be allowed access to the islands, since this is the most radical statement from the US side so far,” said the editorial.

“The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.”

Satellite photos show China has built military facilities in the contested waters, also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, among others.

Beijing stays diplomatic

Washington claims Beijing’s activities in the region threaten freedom of navigation around the strategically vital waters. However, the administration of US President Barack Obama has not taken a position on the ownership of the islets and reefs of the South China Sea.

China’s official reaction to Tillerson’s comments was muted, with foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang advising Washington not to get involved.

“The South China Sea situation has cooled down and we hope non-regional countries can respect the consensus that it is in the fundamental interest of the whole world,” he said.

China has reclaimed more than 3,000 of acres of land, building military-grade infrastructure on reefs and islets mostly in the Spratly Island chain.

Tension over the South China Sea was expected to be a topic of conversation during Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Vietnam, with the country seeking US support over China’s actions in the potential conflict zone.China Expansionspolitik in Südchinesischem Meer

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Runway

China is expanding the construction of its facilities on Fiery Cross Reef. Provided by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), this June 28, 2015 photo reveals Beijing has nearly completed a 3,000 meter (9,800-foot) airstrip, long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft. Two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas, and one possible radar tower are also visible.China Spratly Islands

Expansion

Reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef, which lies on the west side of the Spratly Islands, began in August of 2014 and its principal landmass was finished by November. Dredgers have created a land mass that spans the entire existing reef and is approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide.China Bildergalerie Chinas Diplomatie mit dem Bagger

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Facilities

This picture taken last November shows construction work being carried out on Fiery Cross Reef. The reef reportedly already houses a helicopter landing pad, a 300-meter-long wharf, a harbor large enough to dock military tankers, barracks and artillery emplacements.Satelitenaufnahmen Spratly-Inseln Asia Maritime Transparency Iniative

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

South Johnson Reef

This reef was one of the first facilities to finish principal land reclamation. This recent picture shows that a radar tower is nearing completion at the north end of the land mass. According to AMTI, a new large multi-level military facility has been built in the center of the island. Up to six surveillance towers are being constructed alongside four possible weapons towers.

China Expansionspolitik in Südchinesischem Meer

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

A naval base?

Beginning in early 2015, Mischief Reef – also located in the Spratlys – has undergone extensive reclamation activity. Experts say that the recent widening of the southern entrance to the reef, coupled with sightings of Chinese navy vessels, may suggest a future role for the reclaimed reef as a naval base. Taken on March 17, this image shows a chain of small land formations at the reef.EINSCHRÄNKUNG Projekt IHS Jane’s

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

From reef to island

Significant construction on Gaven Reef began in 2014, with a total of 114,000 square meters of land already created. Satellite pictures show just how fast construction has progressed on the reef. A new artificial island was created between March (left) and August (right) 2014.China Bildergalerie Chinas Diplomatie mit dem Bagger

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Troop garrison

According to AMTI, China has had a troop garrison on Gaven Reef since 2003, which has included a large supply platform where ships can dock. Experts say a new main square building in the reef appears to be an anti-aircraft tower.China Bildergalerie Chinas Diplomatie mit dem Bagger

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

A standardized process

As seen in this image, the basic process of expanding these features involves dredging sand from the seafloor and dumping it onto the reefs. The structure is raised above the high water line, hiding the status of the bank or reef beneath. The sand is then smoothed out and workers surround the island with a concrete barrier to protect against erosion and storm surge, and begin construction.Karte Südchinesisches Meer Englisch

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

‘Historic rights’

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The US Pacific Fleet commander recently said China was “creating a great wall of sand” in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. Beijing argues it is asserting its so-called “historic rights” to maritime resources in the area.China Vietnam Konflikt im Südchinesischem Meer

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Territorial disputes

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, which have led to territorial disputes in the area. Last summer, China’s deployment of a massive oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi escalated tensions in the region, sparking a standoff at sea and violent anti-Chinese demonstrations in Vietnam.US Militärpräsenz im Südchinesischem Meer

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

US concerns

Washington is concerned China’s efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine the US’ naval and economic power in the Pacific, and has weighed sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the new artificial islands. Washington has repeatedly called on Beijing and others to end reclamation projects in the disputed waters, but Beijing rejects those demands.Thunfischschwarm

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Ecological impact

The Philippines filed a formal plea at the UN last year, challenging Beijing’s territorial claims. Manila said China’s reclamation activities are causing “irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea.” It also claimed that the destruction of coral reef systems is estimated to cause economic losses valued at $100 million annually.

Author: Gabriel Domínguez

rc/msh (AFP, AP)

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