China sparks concern by reclaiming contested territories

Nigel Inkster say 'we need to be careful' on China

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Satellite images appear to showChina is artificially enlarging contested territory in the South China Sea, causing concern amongst its neighbours. The Philippines says it is “seriously concerned” by the images which show Beijing is reclaiming unoccupied parts of the Spratly Islands.

If confirmed, the action would mean China has broken a declaration in which claimants to the islands pledged to avoid doing anything which could escalate disputes. This includes occupying uninhabited land.

Mail Online reports that new land formations emerged around the contested islands, where a Chinese vessel with a hydraulic excavator has been seen operating in recent years.

Other countries that also stake a claim to the islands are the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

In 2012 a UN-backed tribunal ruled China’s claim to the islands was baseless, but it has ignored this.

The Philippines says the Chinese coastguard and maritime militia has been harassing and attacked fishing boats and other vessels that are sailing around the islands.

China occupies at least seven islands and rocks in the Spratlys and has militarised them with runways, ports, and radar systems.

Over the past few years it has built artificial islands on reefs in the disputed waters and it has also built military facilities and airstrips.

Covert photos of these military bases reveal they are packed full of defences – including attack ships, naval guns and anti-aircraft systems.

They give the most detailed view yet of what President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party has been building for almost a decade on what were a remote series of atolls and reefs.

From Ezra Acayan’s pictures it is clear there are hangars capable of housing dozens of planes, airstrips, ports, and at least two vehicle bays which could conceal mobile missile launchers. These could be tipped with nuclear warheads.

Bloomberg reports that fresh reclamations have been taking place on Eldad Reef, Whitsun Reef, Sandy Cay, and Lankiam Cay.

Lankiam Cay is eight miles northeast of Philippine-occupied Loaita Island and 33 miles away from Chinese-held Subi Reef.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning dismissed the allegations and called Bloomberg’s report “completely groundless”.

She said: “Not taking action on uninhabited islands and reefs of the South China Sea is a solemn consensus reached by China and ASEAN countries through actions and declarations by each party.

“The development of China-Philippines relations currently has good momentum, and the two sides will continue to appropriately handle maritime issues through friendly consultation.”

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Last week The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing because a Chinese coastguard vessel “forcefully” seized what was believed to be debris from a Chinese rocket, which had been retrieved by the navy.

The Chinese embassy in Manila denied that force was used and instead said the fragments were handed over after a “friendly consultation”.

Also last week, the Philippine defence ministry said it had “great concern” over reports there were a large number of Chinese ships in Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal, which Manila claims as its territory.

Acting defence secretary Jose Faustino said: “[President Ferdinand Marcos] directive to the department is clear – we will not give up a single square inch of Philippine territory.”

Adding their voice to the argument, the US State Department says it supports the Philippines on both incidents and said China needs to “respect international law”.

In response, the Chinese embassy accused the States of using the dispute to ‘stir up troubles’.

It acknowledged that it had “differences” with Manila but did not directly address the alleged incidents where many Chinese ships were said to have been in Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal.

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