Beijing calls reef project ‘justifiable,’ rebukes US

‘OBVIOUS BIAS’::Fallout from a report on a suspected airstrip project on a disputed islet sparked articles in the ‘Global Times’ that admonished the US as ‘selfish’

AFP, BEIJING

Tue, Nov 25, 2014 - Page 5

Beijing yesterday responded to US criticism of an artificial island project in the disputed South China Sea that could reportedly include an airstrip, with a top general defending it as “justifiable.”

People’s Liberation Army Major General Luo Yuan (羅援) told the state-run Global Times newspaper that Beijing was building infrastructure on the reef and the US should not interfere.

“The US is obviously biased, considering that the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam have already set up military facilities,” Luo was quoted as saying.

“China is likely to withstand the international pressure and continue the construction, since it is completely legitimate and justifiable,” he added.

A report last week by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly revealed new details of a vast land reclamation project China is undertaking on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑礁), which is part of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), which are also claimed by Taiwan.

IHS Jane’s reported that the artificial island is 3km long and 200m to 300m wide, adding that it is one of several reclamation projects being pursued by China in the region, but apparently the first that could accommodate an airstrip.

A harbor has also been dug out on the east side of the reef that appears large enough for tankers and naval warships, it said.

Days after the report, the US called on China to halt the project and for other governments to cease similar efforts.

“We urge China to stop its land reclamation program, and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities,” US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Pool said.

However, the Global Times said yesterday that China was building on the reef “mainly to improve the living standards of the reef-stationed soldiers.”

The US, which is “not a claimant” in the South China Sea, has been acting “selfishly” in the region, the paper added in an opinion piece.

“China’s construction on the Yongshu Reef will not be affected by US words,” the Global Times said.

“The Yongshu Reef is becoming a big island, which shows China’s prominent construction capabilities,” it said.