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Thursday, March 26, 2015

China reclamation alarms US senators


By Jaime Laude 
The Philippine Star
Aerial surveillance images obtained by The STAR show Ma- bini Reef in March last year (left), with only one building that served as a temporary shelter for workers. The image on the right, taken recently, shows more structures and trees planted on the reef.
Aerial surveillance images obtained by The STAR show Ma- bini Reef in March last year (left), with only one building that served as a temporary shelter for workers. The image on the right, taken recently, shows more structures and trees planted on the reef.

WASHINGTON – Leading US senators expressed alarm on Thursday at the scale and speed of China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea and said a formal US strategy was needed to slow or stop the work.

In a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Republican Sens. John McCain and Bob Corker and Democrats Jack Reed and Bob Menendez said that without a comprehensive strategy, “long-standing interests of the United States, as well as our allies and partners, stand at considerable risk.”

They said China’s land reclamation and construction in the South China Sea’s Spratly archipelago gave it the potential to expand its military reach and was “a direct challenge, not only to the interests of the United States and the region, but to the entire international community.”

The letter said Gaven (Burgos) Reef had grown about 28 acres (114,000 square meters) in the past year and previously submerged Johnson (Mabini) Reef was now a 25-acre (100,000-square-meter) “island.” Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef increased in size more than 11-fold since August.

“While other states have built on existing land masses, China is changing the size, structure and physical attributes of land features themselves,” the letter said. “This is a qualitative change that appears designed to alter the status quo in the South China Sea.”

It said any attempt by China to militarize the artificial islands could have “serious consequences” and could embolden Beijing to declare a new air defense zone in the South China Sea like it announced in 2013 in an area contested with Japan.

The senators, who head the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the strategy should lay out “specific actions the United States can take to slow down or stop China’s reclamation activities…”

China claims about 90 percent of the potentially energy rich

South China Sea. It has defended its reclamation work there, saying it is not seeking to overturn the international order. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

Chinese reclamation work is well advanced on six Spratly reefs and workers are building ports and fuel storage depots and possibly two airstrips. Experts say this will not overturn US regional military superiority but could allow Beijing to project power deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

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RELATED STORY:

Stop ‘kibitzing,’ China’s Xinhua tells US

Source: The Daily Tribune
Spratly-reclamation.1BEIJING — Chinese state media yesterday turned to Yiddish in the war of words over territorial disputes, criticizing the United States as a “kibitzer” for what it called meddling in the South China Sea issue.

A commentary published in English by the official Xinhua news agency was headlined “America the Kibitzer” — which refers to an onlooker who gives unwanted advice — in this case regarding the South China Sea.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, a position that conflicts with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as with Taiwan.

US officials have called for a multilateral agreement to end all actions that risk further inflaming tensions in the region, which includes US allies.

“Uncle Sam has long been in the grip of many addictions, such as muscle-flexing, preaching and borrowing, but there has turned out to be one more: Kibitzing,” the commentary said.

The commentary followed remarks by Commander of the US Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, calling for patrols of the South China Sea as well as US senators urging a strategy to deal with China’s land reclamation in the disputed region.

Chinese reclamation work is well advanced on six Spratly reefs and workers are building ports and fuel storage depots and possibly two airstrips. Experts say this will not overturn US regional military superiority but could allow Beijing to project power deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

Thomas this week called on Southeast Asian nations to form a combined maritime force to patrol areas of the South China Sea, Bloomberg News reported.

“If Asean members were to take the lead in organizing something along those lines, trust me, the US 7th Fleet would be ready to support,” Bloomberg quoted Thomas as saying.

Asean is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Such outside kibitzing… is way out of line for a party that has publicly committed itself not to (take) sides on the South China Sea disputes,” the Xinhua commentary said.

Also in rebuking Thomas’ suggestions, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “We hope the United States will strictly honor its commitment of not taking positions or sides on territorial sovereignty issues.

Hong added Thomas’ remarks “will by no means help resolve the South China Sea disputes properly or contribute to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

He stressed it is China’s long-standing commitment to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea through negotiations and consultations with the countries directly concerned.

According to the spokesman, China and the Asean have proposed a joint initiative in which they will safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea independently of other nations.
He urged the US side not to make irresponsible remarks any longer and instead do more that are conducive to boosting mutual trust and regional peace and stability.

Yiddish was once the main language for Jews living in Europe. But it started to wane after World War II with the use of Hebrew in Israel and Jewish immigrants to America switching over to English.

Meanwhile, Indonesian President Joko Widodo will take up the issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea during his seven-day trip to Japan and China starting Sunday, Foreign Minister Arrmanatha Nasir said.

“Of course, the issue of regional stability will be discussed both in Japan and in China because the process of ensuring that the region continues to benefit from stability and peace…will be a major factor for regional economic development,” Nasir told a press conference. AFP and PNA

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