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China Defends Its Island-Building in the South China Sea

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. This is a still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy, May 21, 2015. (REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters)
China Describes Its Island-Building in the South China Sea
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China has defended its efforts to build up islands and coral reefs in the South China Sea. Chinese officials say the efforts are no different from public construction projects. Officials compared the activities to repairing roads, and building bridges and homes.

The question about who owns islands and reefs in the South China Sea has caused tensions between China and other countries for many years. The territorial dispute deepened in recent weeks after the release of evidence that China is carrying out a huge island-building project. China also appears to be developing some unpopulated areas for its military.

Defense Ministry official Yang Yujun spoke to reporters Tuesday on the release of a report called “China’s Military Strategy.” He said others are using the territorial claims to create a dispute.

Mr. Yang said, “Some are trying to damage the reputation of China’s military and deliberately exaggerate concerns about stability in the region.”

He added that, “one cannot rule out the possibility that some countries are doing this to create an excuse for possible actions that they might take in the future.”

The Chinese spokesman did not say which countries he meant or what kind of actions he was talking about. But some observers said his comments appeared to be directed at the United States.

U.S. surveillance flights near the islands that China is developing show many ships involved in the land reclamation efforts. American officials say airport runways, air traffic control towers and other possible military-related structures are under development.

Last week, a CNN reporter and cameraman were permitted on a U.S. military surveillance flight in the South China Sea. While on the flight, the Chinese navy warned the airplane to leave as it flew near Fiery Cross Reef. The U.S. crew answered, saying the plane was in international airspace.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its own. Now, China has started a huge effort to build up seven maritime sites in the area. The move, however, has raised concerns from China’s neighbors. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations recently released a rare statement warning of the threat the island-building had on peace.

The United States says it is considering stepping up patrols in the South China Sea. The idea is to show the U.S. position that freedom of shipping is very important in the area.

China says it is not the first to build up islands in the disputed waters or to build airstrips, which is true. But China's huge and fast expansion is unlike other efforts.

Chinese officials say the developed islands and reefs will help to support the country’s defense needs. China says it plans to use them to aid search and rescue efforts in times of disaster and emergency. China also says it wants to help with weather observation and management of fishing resources.

In its release of the defense white paper Tuesday, China described how it plans to increase its naval ability further from the mainland.

China Sea activities
China Sea activities

In the report, China says its navy will redirect its focus from offshore defense to protection of the open seas. The report says China’s air force will also shift its focus from territorial air defense to both defense and offense.

Defense Ministry official Yang Yujun was asked whether the changes were an attempt to give the military the ability to fight further from China. Mr. Yang answered by saying China’s overall policy remains the same.

Mr. Yang said that China “will continue to follow its path of peaceful development and maintain its defensive military posture.” He says, “China will never seek to be a dominate power or hegemon or engage in military expansionism.”

Officials say China currently has no plans to establish military bases overseas. Officials also said that any decisions to build more aircraft carriers would be made based on China’s economic development and overall military needs. Aircraft carriers are seen as way to extend power further beyond a country’s borders.

I’m Mario Ritter.

VOA’s Bill Ide reported on this story. Mario Ritter adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

construction – adj. related to building; n. – the act of building of something

reputation – n. public image; the common opinion about someone or something

excuse – n. reason; justification

surveillance – v. to carefully watch someone or something

focus – n. to place careful attention on something

maritime – adj. relating to sailing or the sea

patrols – n. the act of watching or guarding an area

hegemon – n. a single power stronger than others

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