CHINA admitted expanding its islands in the disputed South China Sea, with continued construction in the challenged islands covering about 290,000 square meters or 29 hectares this year alone, state paper People’s Daily reported Monday.
The report, which detailed Beijing’s “accelerated construction” and “enhanced military presence” on South China Sea islands and shoals over the past year, includes new facilities for underground storage, administrative buildings and large radar, which they claim “reasonably” expanded the area of South China Sea Islands—in a bid they claim enhances Chinese military defense capability within its sovereign scope and improve the lives of people living on the islands.
Beijing said it has conducted extensive land reclamation work on some of the islands and reefs it controls in the South China Sea, including building airports; international services such as search-and-rescue; and the increase of civilian facilities.
Among those that will be built in the future were: A floating nuclear power platform, libraries and stadiums, among others.
China also says it can do whatever it wants on its territory, despite an earlier reported assurance given by Chinese President Xi Jinping to President Rodrigo Duterte, who played down reports of Beijing’s military build-up in the disputed waters.
Sought for comment on the report, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque again played down Beijing’s continued reclamation and construction in the disputed waters.
“We dont know where these works are. We continue to rely on China’s good faith. Location is material since we do not have claims on all the islands and waters in the disputed area,” he said in a text message to reporters.
Beijing’s admission confirms satellite imagery released earlier this month by the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which showed infrastructure build-up in the Spratly and Paracel islands during the entire year, covering 290,000 square meters.
Greg Poling, the initiative’s director, said Beijing had seized a “diplomatic opening” amid Duterte’s conciliatory stance toward Beijing over their territorial dispute.
“It’s gotten off the front pages, but we shouldn’t confuse that with a softening in China’s pursuit of its goals. They are continuing all the construction they want,” Poling was earlier quoted in an Associated Press interview.
Duterte earlier claimed that Xi assured him that the increasing militarization in the South China Sea was “nothing” and was given the assurance that China would not impede the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The Chairman’s statement of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), meanwhile, for its 31st Summit in Manila had taken a soft stance towards China’s militarization of the disputed waters, only referring to the vague need for “non-militarization and self restraint.”
Last November 13, China agreed to start with the negotiations for a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, 15 years after they signed the Declaration of Conduct, a non-binding edict, in 2002.
The Asean and China decided to adopt “in its entirety” the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the disputed waters adopted by the foreign ministers of Asean member countries and China last August.
China claims most of the oil-resource-rich South China Sea where a total $5 trillion worth of trade passes through the disputed waters every year, citing its nine-dash line policy based on an ancient Chinese map.
But the Arbitral Tribunal has ruled in favor of the Philippines and declared China’s claim as excessive and illegal to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.