US asks China to stop building Spratlys island which could host airfield

Massive island has been created by reclamation project on Fiery Cross Reef, according to report

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 November, 2014, 8:45am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 November, 2014, 8:48am

The United States has urged Beijing to stop its reclamation projects in the South China Sea, as a report provided more details on a massive island being built in the disputed waters.

According to a report by IHS Jane's Defence, China had over the past three months used dredgers to build an island about 3,000 metres long and 200 to 300 metres wide on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. The reef - which China calls Yongshu Reef - was previously under water.

The results of the dredging are captured in satellite pictures obtained by IHS Jane's that cover a period between August 8 and November 14. The reclamation efforts were also noted in a US Congress report on Thursday.

US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Pool said the reclamation project was one of several pursued by China but the first that could accommodate an airstrip.

"It appears that's what they're working toward," Pool said.

A harbour has also as been dug out on the east side of the reef that appears large enough for tankers and naval warships.

The IHS Jane's report said: "The land reclamation at Fiery Cross is the fourth such project undertaken by China in the Spratly Islands in the last 12-18 months and by far the largest in scope."

Before the latest dredging work, the Chinese navy had used a concrete platform and no artificial island had been created.

China has already built islands at Johnson South Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Gaven Reefs.

Beijing claims nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have asserted their own claims by building structures on reefs or occupying islands.

The US called on China to halt the latest project and for other governments to cease similar efforts.

"We urge China to stop its land reclamation programme, and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities," Pool said.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said it was unfair that the US criticised only China's reclamation project as other countries involved in territorial disputes had also created artificial islands in the disputed area.

"The US should strike a balance between China and other claimants in the South China Sea. It's impossible to request Beijing to make concessions in the territorial disputes all the time," Li said. "It's hard to say which reclamation project is the biggest one as its scale should meet with China's defence capability, maritime interests, as well as its long-term defence strategy."

The other countries involved in the territorial disputes already had airfields in the area and China's latest efforts could put it in a stronger position as Beijing pursues its claims.

IHS Jane's said the move appeared to be aimed at getting other countries to relinquish their claims, or provide China with a stronger negotiating position should talks take place over the dispute.

The United States has urged China and other states to settle the territorial disputes peacefully and without coercion while urging Beijing to support a regional, multilateral maritime "code of conduct" to defuse confrontations at sea. But Beijing has tended to prefer bilateral talks with its smaller neighbours, which are heavily dependent on Chinese trade.