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China, US exchange barbs over Spratly reef

China and the United States have commenced a new war of words — this time over construction of an artificial island by Beijing in the tension-prone Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

Luo Yuan, a Major General in the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) slammed Washington for being “obviously biased” by singling out China for construction work at the Yongfu Reef, also called Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly islands.

Gen. Luo was referring to a statement on Friday by a U.S. military spokesman, who urged China to “stop its land reclamation programme, and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities”.

The U.S. exhortations followed publication of satellite imagery by the publication IHS Jane's of the construction by China of an artificial island—3000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide---which was good enough for staging military aircraft.

But Gen.Luo pointed out that the US was deliberately ignoring Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, which have their own territorial claims and have already set up military facilities in the islands.

In fact, the Chinese point out that they have been latecomers in establishing their military presence in the Spratly islands, which have been claimed by Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei. The IHS Jane’s article acknowledges that China has been at a distinct disadvantage compared with other claimants in the Spratly Islands as it is the only claimant not to occupy an island with an airfield. It points out that Taiwan has Itu Aba (Taiping) island, the Philippines has Pagasa island, Malaysia has Swallow Reef (a reef on which it reclaimed land and built an airstrip), and Vietnam has Southwest Cay.

Jin Zhirui, a senior officer from the Chinese Air Force Headquarters told foreign media on the sidelines of a recent international security conference that China now needs a base in the Spratly islands to “support our radar system and intelligence-gathering activities". He added that although “there are 50 islands and reefs in the Nansha (Spratley) islands, those belonging to China are the fewest in number, and China was the last to make advances there".

The officer also stated that the recent search for the survivors of the Malaysian Airlines plane that went missing in March 2014 had made it clear that “we (China) lacked sufficient air force capabilities in the South China Sea".

An editorial in the Global Times observed that, “China's policies on the South China Sea will remain pragmatic,” but hoped that “the U.S. will stay calm and strike a balance when dealing with China over the South China Sea disputes”.  


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 12:07:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/china-us-exchange-barbs-over-spratly-reef/article6630146.ece

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