A new Pentagon report says China is using coercive tactics short of armed conflict, such as the use of law enforcement vessels to enforce maritime claims, to advance their interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict.
“China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres of land in the southeastern South China Sea. But the country’s focus has shifted to developing and weaponising those man-made islands so it will have greater control over the maritime region without resorting to armed conflict,” the report adds.
In its most detailed assessment to date of China’s island-building program, the Defense Department said three of the land features in the Spratly Islands now have nearly 10,000-foot runways and large ports in various stages of construction.
And it has excavated deep channels, created and dredged harbors, and constructed communications, logistics and intelligence gathering facilities.
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The report argues that the accelerated building effort doesn’t give China any new territorial rights. But it says the airfields, ship facilities, surveillance and weapons equipment will allow China to significantly enhance its long-term presence in the South China Sea.
“This would improve China’s ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties,
widen the range of capabilities available to China, and reduce the time required to deploy them,” according to the report released on Saturday.
The 3,200 acres only represents China’s reclamation in the Spratleys and doesn’t include its building in the Paracels, further northwest, including the contested Woody Island, in its estimates. China has deployed anti-aircraft missiles to Woody Island.
Chinese officials have defended the land reclamation by saying it is Beijing’s territory, adding that the buildings and infrastructure are for public service use and to support fishermen. It accuses the Philippines, Vietnam and others of carrying out their own building work on other islands.