How can you monitor a critical shipping channel that affects most of your exports? Start asserting yourself by claiming land. Better still, create your own land!
Finally, China has accepted it. For some years China has intensified its land reclamation, facility construction and defence installation in the South China Sea. Its controversial activities in the hotly disputed waters have unnerved rival claimant states and other countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia.
…China is not a benign and law-abiding power that respects other countries’ legitimate rights and treats its smaller neighbors as equals…
Yet, each time its island-building and militarization in the strategic seaway have been raised Beijing vehemently refused or downplayed the contentions. For example, in March this year, a spokesman for China’s defence ministry categorically said there was “no such thing” as man-made islands in the South China Sea and refused the country’s military build-up in the area, saying any work was mainly for civilian purposes.
In the same month, during a visit to Australia Li Keqiang, China’s premier, also dismissed Beijing’s militarization of the islands, adding “if there’s a certain amount of defence equipment or facilities it is for maintaining the freedom of navigation” for all. But after years of denials, it appears Beijing has now not only acknowledged but praised — albeit implicitly — its island-building and military build-up in the contested area.
Last week, Study Times, an official Chinese magazine, devoted its front page to an adulatory profile of President Xi Jinping, the 1.3-billion-people country’s “heart” leader.The weekly paper, published by the Central Party School, the ruling party’s top academy, praised Xi’s life, leadership, and policies — including, notably, his tough stance on marine and territorial issues. “[Such conclusions] fundamentally changed the strategic situation of the South China Sea” and “established a strong strategic foundation for the winning final victory in the battle for upholding rights in the South China Sea,” the article said.
China built seven artificial islands in the Spratlys
Indeed, China has aggressively expanded its presence in the resource-rich and strategically important waterway since Xi came to power in 2012. It has constructed seven large man-made islands in the highly contested Spratly archipelago, which it’s equipped with airstrips and other military-purpose installations. China’s territorial and military expansionism has radically shifted the balance of power in the region in its favor. Having built such enormous military infrastructure on its artificial islands, “the equivalent of building a maritime Great Wall,” China is in the strongest position to control the strategic seaway and to project its power over regional countries. Now it can deploy combat aircraft, missile launchers, and other military hardware on (and out of) its own newly developed bases at any time.
With Xi seeking to increase his sweeping influence in and beyond his second-term that ends in 2023, it is likely that China will continue — and even harden — its hard line on maritime and territorial issues in the years to come. “We absolutely won’t permit [anybody] — at any time, in any form — to separate any part of Chinese territory from China.” “No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit of harm to our sovereignty, security and development interests,” cautioned the 64-year-old, who’s widely seen as China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping.
Such a hardline posture is, undoubtedly, a real concern for China’s neighbors, particularly those who are locked in territorial disputes with the world’s second largest economy and military.China claims the majority of the 3.5-million-sq-km sea, through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. However, its excessive claims to historic rights, other sovereign rights and jurisdiction within its so-called “nine-dash line” violate the economic exclusive zone of other countries, like the Philippines and Vietnam.
Last July, a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea tribunal determined that the nine-dash line — or the huge majority of its extensive claims to maritime rights and resources from the South China Sea — were incompatible with international law.The arbitral tribunal also found that “China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights” and that its “recent large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands was incompatible with the obligations on a country during dispute resolution proceedings.
Beijing snubs landmark United Nations (UN) tribunal judgment
In actuality, the five-judge tribunal ruled unanimously on almost all of the Philippines’ claims against China. Yet, Beijing has stringently rejected that landmark judgment.Judging by China’s military and territorial expansion in the South China Sea during the last five years, the party’s public praise of Xi’s function in such maritime adventure, its show of military force at the 90thanniversary of its PLA and Xi’s combative remarks on this event, the Asian juggernaut is ready to use its power, including vast military means, to protect its “territory” and “sovereignty” from the South China Sea.
All of this also shows, when it comes to the maritime dispute, as widely acknowledged, China is not a benign and law-abiding power that respects other countries’ legitimate rights and treats its smaller neighbors as equals, as its leaders have preached.