China accelerates land reclamation in disputed islands

2015-05-09 10:47
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Washington - China embarked upon extensive land reclamation efforts at five outposts in the disputed Spratly Islands last year, adding huge amounts of terrain as of December to bolster its presence in an area claimed by rivals, a new Pentagon report said on Friday.

Chinese land reclamation has accelerated this year, with the total acreage to the outposts in the South China Sea growing from 500 in December to about 2 000 on Friday, a US defence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Spratly island chain is claimed by at least three other countries: the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia.

"We do not support South China Sea land reclamation efforts by any party," the official said. "However, the pace and scale of China's land reclamation in recent years dwarfs that of any other claimant. China has expanded the acreage on outposts it occupies by about 400 times."

By comparison, Vietnam has reclaimed about 60 acres of land closer to home in the South China Sea area since 2009, one official said.

The comments on Beijing's rising activity in the South China Sea came as the Pentagon released its annual report to Congress discussing military and security issues related to China.

China has manifested "more forceful rhetoric and confrontational behaviour" in dealing with rival claimants in the region, including blocking resupply missions to a Philippine outpost at the Second Thomas Shoal and sending a drilling rig into waters also claimed by Vietnam.

China's land reclamation in the Spratlys will enable it to use the areas as "persistent civil-military bases of operation to enhance its presence significantly in disputed areas," the report said.

Beijing's more forceful behaviour comes as it continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernisation programme designed to improve its ability to fight "short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts”, the report said.

China has the "most rapidly maturing" space programme in the world, is the only country other than the United States with two concurrent stealth fighter programmes and has road mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach most of the continental United States, it said.

The military modernisation aims to force potential adversaries like the United States to operate at greater distances in the event of a regional conflict. It also "has the potential to reduce core US military technological advantages”, it said.

"China's lack of transparency surrounding its growing military capabilities and strategic decision-making has also increased concerns in the region about China's intentions," the report said. "Absent greater transparency, these concerns will likely intensify as the PLA [People's Liberation Army] modernisation progresses."

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