Mon, Mar 09, 2015 - Page 1 News List

China defends development of South China Sea islands

Reuters, BEIJING

China’s foreign minister yesterday defended his government’s controversial policy of reclaiming land on disputed isles in the South China Sea, which has sparked regional concern, saying Beijing was not seeking to overturn the international order.

Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) tried to set Southeast Asian minds at ease over the country’s ambitions, but Beijing’s reclamation work on the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) underscores its drive to push claims in the South China Sea and reassert its rights.

China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called “nine-dash line” that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters that are crossed by key global shipping lanes.

China has already undertaken reclamation work on six other reefs it occupies in the Spratlys, expanding land mass fivefold, aerial surveillance photos show. Images last year appeared to show an airstrip and sea ports.

The work on the islands has become possibly the most visible sign of Xi’s more muscular form of diplomacy, even as he promises more than US$120 billion in funds for Africa, Southeast Asia and Central Asia.

Speaking at his annual news conference on the sidelines of the ongoing meeting of parliament, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) said China was undertaking “necessary” construction that was not aimed at any third party.

“We are not like some countries, which have carried out ‘illegal building’ in other people’s homes, and we won’t accept unwarranted remarks about work on our own home,” he said, in apparent criticism of building by some other claimant states.

China’s stance has stoked fears in Washington, Tokyo and some Southeast Asian capitals that Beijing is increasingly trying to play by its own rules and ignore international norms, as Xi seeks a global position commensurate with China’s new economic power.

Wang said he believes that the current system needs to be updated rather than overturned, to give more say to developing countries, comparing the international order and system built around the UN to a big boat.

“Today we are in this boat, together with more than 190 other countries. So of course we don’t want to upset the boat, rather we want to work with other passengers to make sure this boat will sail forward steadily and in the right direction,” he said.

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