Island construction will continue as planned
China’s ForeignMinistry Spokesperson Lu Kang on Tuesday confirmed that the country will “soon” complete the land reclamation projects underway in theNansha Islands in the South China Sea “as planned”. The announcement, however, has been misinterpreted by someWestern media outlets as a concession to theUnited States, which has been pressuring China to stop its reclamation and construction activities in the South China Sea. Such a misreading not only underestimates Beijing’s staunch determination to protect its legal interests and maritime sovereignty, but also distorts the reality of China’s endeavors.
China began working on the islands inNovember 2013, and the planned reclamation projects are nearing completion. But, as Lu said, once the land reclamation activities are complete, work will begin on constructing facilities that can fulfill the relevant functions.
The Chinese government is clearly willing to conduct its lawful land reclamation and construction in a transparent and cooperative manner.
In response to the concerns expressed by theUnited States, Japan, and the Philippines, China has repeatedly stated the reclamation and construction work are aimed at meeting multiple civilian demands, improving living conditions of people stationed in the islands area, and enabling the country to better shoulder its international obligations and responsibilities.
However, these countries have totally distorted Beijing’s peaceful intentions and intensified tensions in the South China Sea by claiming the work is part of Chinese attempt to “militarize”the South China Sea. Actually China is last one of contending claimants in the South China Sea to conduct land reclamation.
The work, which is lawful, reasonable and justified, will benefit necessary military defense, but, as China has reiterated over the past months, it will primarily serve maritime search and rescue efforts, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine scientific research, ecological environment conservation, and fishery protection. Even theUS has been invited to use the Chinese facilities for search and rescue purposes when they are finished.
As well as boosting regional cooperation and ensuring sound navigation, the reclamation and construction projects will play an important role in securing the country’s maritime sovereignty and ensuing maritime rights China has been long committed to in the area. Thus, the construction projects will continue and finish as planned, irrespective of the pressure and threats from other countries.
In all likelihood, opponents of China’s construction on its own islands and reefs fear that China may use its expanding presence in the South China Sea to conduct unilateral actions in the territorial disputes with its neighbors. But history would say otherwise, because China has long been known for maintaining friendly relations and seeking mutual benefits with its neighbors. In particular, the past two decades also tell us that the closer relations are, the more likely Asia is to prosper and sustain peace.
Seen in this light, China’s construction activities in the South China Sea can be seen as part of the efforts to create an Asian community. The author is executive director of the Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies and professor of international relations at Nanjing University.