China is claiming its massive engineering efforts to reclaim some land in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is nearing an end ahead of a larger construction effort, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday.
The announcement gave neither specifics as to which projects were nearing completion nor timelines for the end of the reclamation effort.
“It is learned from relevant Chinese competent departments that, as planned, the land reclamation project of China’s construction on some stationed islands and reefs of the Nansha [Spratly] Islands will be completed in the upcoming days,” read the statement.
“After the land reclamation, we will start the building of facilities to meet relevant functional requirements.”
In the last year, China has stepped up a massive land reclamation effort in the Spratlys — a region of the South China Sea that is subject to several overlapping claims from South China Sea border countries.
The reclamation effort — which has generated almost 2,000 acres in a additional territory over seven locations — has raised concerns with neighboring countries and the U.S. that China could limit access to the sea and air lanes in the South China Sea with an increased military presence and described as a “great wall of sand” by U.S. Navy officials.
“A reclaimed island being built by China on Fiery Cross Reef appears to be designed to include a 3,000-meter-long airstrip, in addition to ports and radar facilities,” read a March report from Jane’s Defence Weekly.
“Chinese sources indicate that 1,000 km-radius Su-27SK fighters have been deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago. If deployed to Fiery Cross, the Su-27SK could cover most southern areas of the South China Sea.”
Beijing has long claimed the islands are Chinese territory and the land reclamations and construction are benign.
“The main purpose of China’s construction activities is to meet various civilian demands and better perform China’s international obligations and responsibilities in the areas such as maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine scientific research, meteorological observation, ecological environment conservation, navigation safety as well as fishery production service,” read the Tuesday statement.
However, last month an overflight of a U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft over some of the construction met with angry radio chatter from a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) radio station.
Last year, a State Department analysis of China’s South China Sea claims — the so-called Nine Dash Line — found that China’s claims were largely inconsistent with international law.
The following is the June 16, 2015 statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang’s Remarks on Issues Relating to China’s Construction Activities on the Nansha Islands and Reefs
Q: Please introduce the recent progress of China’s construction activities on the Nansha islands and reefs and China’s relevant position.
A: The construction activities on the Nansha islands and reefs fall within the scope of China’s sovereignty, and are lawful, reasonable and justified. They are not targeted at any other country, do not affect the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all countries in accordance with international law in the South China Sea, nor have they caused or will they cause damage to the marine ecological system and environment in the South China Sea, and are thus beyond reproach.
It is learned from relevant Chinese competent departments that, as planned, the land reclamation project of China’s construction on some stationed islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands will be completed in the upcoming days.
Apart from satisfying the need of necessary military defense, the main purpose of China’s construction activities is to meet various civilian demands and better perform China’s international obligations and responsibilities in the areas such as maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine scientific research, meteorological observation, ecological environment conservation, navigation safety as well as fishery production service. After the land reclamation, we will start the building of facilities to meet relevant functional requirements.
China is committed to the path of peaceful development. She follows a foreign policy of forging friendship and partnership with her neighbours, and a defense policy that is defensive in nature. China remains a staunch force for regional peace and stability. While firmly safeguarding her territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China will continue to dedicate herself to resolving relevant disputes with relevant states directly concerned, in accordance with international law, through negotiation and consultation on the basis of respecting historical facts, pushing forward actively the consultation on a “Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” together with ASEAN member states within the framework of fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. China will continue to uphold the freedom of navigation as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea.