China re­jects crit­i­cism of sea recla­ma­tions


China on Sun­day re­jected U. S. de­mands to stop recla­ma­tion works in the South China Sea, say­ing it was ex­er­cis­ing its sovereignty and us­ing the con­tro­ver­sial out­posts to ful­fill in­ter­na­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Adm. Sun Jian­guo, deputy chief of the gen­eral staff depart­ment in the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, told a se­cu­rity sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore that “the sit­u­a­tion in the South China Sea is on the whole peace­ful and sta­ble, and there has never been an is­sue with the free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion.”

“China has car­ried out con­struc­tion on some is­lands and reefs in the South China Sea mainly for the pur­pose of im­prov­ing the func­tions of the rel­e­vant is­lands and reefs, and the work­ing and living con­di­tions of per­son­nel sta­tioned there.

“Apart from meet­ing the nec­es­sary de­fense needs, it is more geared to bet­ter per­form China’s in­ter­na­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and obligations re­gard­ing mar­itime search and res­cue, dis­as­ter pre­ven­tion and re­lief, mar­itime sci­en­tific re­search, me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, safety of nav­i­ga­tion, fish­ery pro­duc­tion, ser­vices,” he added.

China in­sists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a ma­jor global ship­ping route be­lieved to be home to oil and gas re­serves, but ri­val claimants ac­cuse it of ex­pan­sion­ism.

“When deal­ing with mar­itime dis­putes with rel­e­vant neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, China has al­ways kept in mind the larger in­ter­est of mar­itime se­cu­rity,” Sun told the an­nual meet­ing known as the Shangri- La Dia­logue.

“In spite of the suf­fi­cient his­tor­i­cal and legal ev­i­dence and its in­dis­putable claims, rights and in­ter­ests, China has ex­er­cised enor­mous re­straint, mak­ing pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions to peace and sta­bil­ity of the re­gion and the world at large.”

Bei­jing ‘out of step’

Sun was speak­ing a day af­ter U. S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter de­manded an im­me­di­ate end to all recla­ma­tion works by claimants and said Bei­jing was “out of step” with in­ter­na­tional norms with its be­hav­ior in dis­puted wa­ters.

Carter said “there should be an im­me­di­ate and last­ing halt to land recla­ma­tion by all claimants,” adding that “we also op­pose any fur­ther mil­i­ta­riza­tion of dis­puted fea­tures.”

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.

“China has re­claimed over 2,000 acres, 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.

Bei­jing has ac­cused Wash­ing­ton of car­ry­ing out provoca­tive moves in the South China Sea.

The Chi­nese mil­i­tary this month or­dered a U. S. Navy P- 8 Po­sei­don sur­veil­lance air­craft to leave an area above the heav­ily dis­puted Spratly Is­lands. But the Amer­i­can plane ig­nored the de­mand.

Carter said Satur­day that U. S. planes and war­ships will con­tinue pa­trolling what Wash­ing­ton con­sid­ers in­ter­na­tional nav­i­ga­tion zones in the South China Sea.

Australia’s De­fense Min­is­ter Kevin An­drews told the Wall Street Jour­nal in an in­ter­view on the side­lines of the meet­ing that Can­berra would also do the same.

“We’ve been do­ing it for decades, we’re do­ing it cur­rently ... and we’ll con­tinue to do it into the fu­ture,” he said.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives f rom claimant coun­tries as well oth­ers from Southeast Asia and Europe urged re­straint on all par­ties in han­dling the dis­pute.

Other del­e­gates, in­clud­ing Sin­ga­pore’s de­fense chief Ng Eng Hen, the UK De­fence Sec­re­tary Michael Fal­lon, and the Euro­pean Union’s for­eign min­is­ter Fed­er­ica Mogherini re­peated calls by Carter for China and the 10- mem­ber As­so­ci­a­tion of Southeast Asian Na­tions ( ASEAN) to adopt a “code of con­duct” in the dis­puted wa­ters as soon as pos­si­ble.

The Sin­ga­pore sum­mit, which ended on Sun­day af­ter­noon, was ear­lier in the day marred by a brief se­cu­rity lock­down af­ter po­lice shot dead a lo­cal mo­torist who tried to flee a check­point near the event venue in a car later found to con­tain drugs.

Af­ter the shoot­ing, po­lice of­fi­cers ini­tially told peo­ple at­tend­ing the sum­mit that the ho­tel was on com­plete lock­down, with no en­try al­lowed. Roads and pathways lead­ing up to the ho­tel, lo­cated in Sin­ga­pore’s leafy diplo­matic quar­ter, were shut off with bar­ri­cade tape.

But ac­cess to the venue was grad­u­ally eased on Sun­day morn­ing. The con­fer­ence pro­ceeded nor­mally un­til it ended at mid­day.

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