Beijing’s island-building projects in the South China Sea might be much larger than previously thought, according to a US Pentagon report.
The report said that as of June, China had reclaimed 1,174 hectares of land — by piling sand on reefs in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) — up nearly 50 percent from May.
As recently as three months ago, the US Department of Defense believed China had claimed just 809 hectares.
“Washington fears that the islands will be used for military purposes and could create instability in one of the world’s biggest commercial shipping routes as China lays claim to what several other countries see as international waters,” the Wall Street Journal said.
The newspaper said that Pentagon officials believe that as China’s assertiveness grows, the risk of conflict with the US and its allies grows along with it.
The report “The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy” was ordered by Congress and comes a month before Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is due to visit Washington.
“Rapid military modernization across the Asia-Pacific region has significantly increased the potential for dangerous miscalculations or conflict,” it said.
It said that many countries are significantly enhancing their maritime law enforcement capabilities as China is asserting sovereignty over disputed areas.
According to the report, China is modernizing every aspect of its maritime-related military law enforcement capabilities, including its naval surface fleet, submarines, aircraft, missiles, radar capabilities and coast guard.
At the same time, the report said that Beijing is developing high-end technologies intended to dissuade external intervention in a conflict and designed to counter US military technology.
“Although preparation for a potential Taiwan conflict remains the primary driver of Chinese investment, China is also placing emphasis on preparing for contingencies in the East and South China Sea,” it said.
The report said that the Pentagon is working to ensure continued freedom of the seas, deter conflict and coercion and promote adherence to international law.
“We are strengthening our military capability to promote stability and respond decisively to threats,” it said.
The report added that the US is leveraging military diplomacy to promote trust and stability.
The report said there should be no doubt that the US will maintain the necessary military presence and capabilities to protect “our interests and those of our allies and partners against potential threats.”
It said the US maintains 368,000 military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region and that over the next five years the US Navy will increase the number of ships assigned to the Pacific Fleet outside of US territory by 30 percent.
By 2020, 60 percent of naval and overseas air assets would be “home-ported” in the Pacific region, it said.
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