US to China: Stop it now
SINGAPORE—The United States on Saturday called for an “immediate and lasting halt” to reclamation works in disputed waters in the South China Sea, saying Beijing’s behavior in the area was “out of step” with international norms.
“First, we want a peaceful resolution of all disputes. To that end, there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants,” US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told a high-level security conference in Singapore.
“We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features,” he said, stressing that US forces would continue entering what he called international waters and airspace in the tense region.
Carter, speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue involving defense ministers and top military officials from China, Europe and other Asia-Pacific countries, added that “with its actions in the South China Sea, China is out of step with both the international rules and norms.”
He acknowledged that other claimants have developed outposts of differing scope and degree, including Vietnam with 48, the Philippines with eight, Malaysia with five and Taiwan with one.
“Yet, one country has gone much farther and much faster than any other. And that’s China. China has reclaimed [800 hectares], more than all other claimants combined and more than in the entire history of the region. And China did so in only the last 18 months,” Carter said.
“It is unclear how much farther China will go. That is why this stretch of water has become the source of tension in the region and front-page news around the world,” he said.
Weapons on islands
Carter’s comments came after US defense officials disclosed on Friday that China had put two large artillery vehicles on one of the artificial islands it was building in the South China Sea.
The discovery, made at least several weeks ago, fuels fears in the United States and across the Asia-Pacific region that China will try to use the land reclamation projects for military purposes.
Two US officials who are familiar with intelligence about the vehicles said the weapons had been removed.
The officials were not authorized to discuss the intelligence and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The Pentagon would not release any photos to support its contention that the vehicles were there.
Pentagon spokesperson Brent Colburn said the United States was aware of the artillery, but he declined to provide other details, saying it was an intelligence matter.
Defense officials described the weapons as self-propelled artillery vehicles and said they posed no threat to the United States or American territories.
Those officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The sighting was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
On PH-claimed islands
Mira Rapp Hooper, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which monitors developments in the South China Sea, said on Friday that analysts have previously identified artillery on at least two of the Chinese land reclamation sites in the Spratly island chain: the Philippine-claimed Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) and Burgos Reef (one of two in a group internationally known as Gaven Reefs).
Vietnam’s deputy defense minister said on Saturday that the reports about the weapons, if true, were a very worrying development.
“If it has actually happened, it is a very bad sign for what is already a very complicated situation in the disputed South China Sea,” Gen. Nguyen Vinh told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the forum in Singapore.
Vinh said he wanted all of the international community to work together to put a halt to China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea.
“I always hope that the international community will always be responsible for the peace, stability and development of the region and not ignore that act of violating international law,” he said.
‘Be calm, rational’
Asked about the reports of weapons on the artificial islands, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said she was “not aware of the situation you mention.”
She also scolded Carter, saying the United States should be “rational and calm and stop making any provocative remarks because such remarks not only do not help ease the controversies in the South China Sea, but they also will aggravate the regional peace and stability.”
US officials have been watching the rapidly expanding land reclamation by China, which is estimated to total more than 800 hectares, in the South China Sea.
In the past year, the United States has escalated its criticism of China’s claim to virtually all of the resource-rich South China Sea, saying it is unsupported by international law.
Beijing’s expansive claim to the waters and reefs overlap those of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
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