TERRITORIAL DISPUTES

China defends reclaiming Mischief Reef land after photos expose it building artificial islands

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 April, 2015, 1:26am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 3:53pm

Beijing reaffirmed its right to build on disputed islands in the South China Sea yesterday after satellite imagery emerged of construction operations turning tropical reefs into concrete artificial islands.

The Philippines - one of the most vocal of China's neighbours in defending its competing territorial claim - reacted strongly, calling for the Asian giant to "dismantle" the reclaimed land.

"They have to dismantle it," said Peter Paul Galvez, spokesman for the Philippines defence department. "It is a concern not only of our country and region but of the whole international community."

A series of satellite images posted on the website of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies show a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto Mischief Reef and the resulting land spreading in size.

Before-and-after images of other outcrops in the Spratly Islands record runways appearing from jungle, smooth-sided solid masses where coral once lay, and man-made harbours replacing natural reefs.

Analysts say the pictures show how China is attempting to create facts in the water to bolster its sovereignty claims.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea, including areas close to the coasts of other littoral states, using the nine-dash line based on one that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have overlapping claims.

"China exerts indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha islands and affiliated waters," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying , using the Chinese name for the islands, which literally means "Southern Sand".

"Such construction is totally within China's sovereignty, and it is legitimate, sensible and lawful. It does not influence nor target any specific country."

The works were to "safeguard the territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests of China", she said,

Hua added: "We will build more civilian facilities."

The Philippines has taken its sovereignty claim to the United Nations for arbitration, a process rejected by Beijing. Manila has troops stationed on some islands it controls, which also have civilian residents.

The South China Sea is home to strategically vital shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas, and the territorial dispute has raised concerns in Washington, with the US asserting that freedom of navigation is in its national interest.