China’s Spratly Islands Construction

China’s Spratly Islands Construction

Admiral Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command, stated in a news conference last Thursday that if China continues to arm all the bases they are creating in the South China Sea, the “operational landscape” will be drastically changed.

“And short of war with the United States, they can become — they can rise to the level of having operational control, tactical control of the waterways and airways in the South China Sea, which today, involves about $5.3 trillion of trade, over a billion of which — over a trillion of which is destined for the United States…China will exercise de facto control of the South China Sea, if they are — if they continue to outfit the bases that they’ve reclaimed there…” Admiral Harris

Military Buildup

China has reclaimed about 3,000 acres of land from the South China Sea. They’ve built three 10,000 foot runways, placed advanced fighters there, and brought in their newest missile systems, as well as set up radar facilities. Airstrips of that size can land any plane, fighter or transport aircraft.

In January, the United States deliberately sent a ship through the region, staying the required 12 nautical miles from shore. They also did it in October of 2015. It was meant to send a message – and China did their usual temper tantrum, but they knew they were in the wrong by putting military installations in that region in the first place.

Other nations such as Vietnam, Taiwan, and the  Philippines have also reclaimed land in the region, but nothing as extensive as China.

Danger and Damage

The United States and trade partners need those vital shipping lanes. China’s military bases may cause ripples in the process. And it is disputed territory for many nations.

The New York Times reported,

“Washington does not recognize China’s ownership of the islands, and in February President Obama reiterated the government’s position that “the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.” To reinforce the message, the United States Navy sent missile destroyers in October and January within 12 nautical miles of the islands, the conventional limit for territorial waters.”

But the danger from China’s military in the area is not the only issue. All of their dredging and reclaiming has permanently damaged the coral reefs, and will have a deleterious effect on the marine life. The economies of the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam depend heavily upon the fishing industry, which may now be in serious jeopardy.

Image by DigitalGlobe, via CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

Watching a military buildup

China knows we have a weak administration. The United States watches this military build up, and has listened to Chinese bluster, but little else.

 “The military will be capable of dealing with any security threat. No country will be allowed to use any excuse or action to threaten China’s sovereignty and safety. …The foremost mission is to safeguard rights and interests in the South China Sea.” General Wang Jiaocheng, People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command

When Admiral Harris was asked by a reporter if we had done anything to stop them, he replied, “Well, you’d have to ask China why they’re not stopping…”

In other words, we’ll just watch.

 china's spratly islands

Image by DigitalGlobe, via CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative