China’s Island-Building Stirs Fears, but Creates Openings for U.S.

China’s Island-Building Stirs Fears, but Creates Openings for U.S.
The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth conducts routine patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Conor Minto).

Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the South China Sea territorial disputes and the various claimant countries' approaches to addressing them.

Last week, it was reported that the U.S. is considering sending Navy ships and aircraft to waters surrounding islands claimed by China in the South China Sea to demonstrate freedom of navigation. The reports follow a month-long media campaign calling attention to China’s expansion of the islands to accommodate airstrips and military facilities. China’s reclamation activity around the Spratly Islands also dominated conversations at last month’s ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur, with the organization’s leaders issuing a statement warning that China’s actions “may undermine peace, security and stability” in the region. The news of the proposed patrols now suggests the U.S. is considering toughening its response to China’s assertive territorial claims in the contested South China Sea.

U.S. President Barack Obama had already criticized Beijing for using “sheer size and muscle” to push around smaller nations in the South China Sea. Chinese authorities have rebuffed those criticisms, arguing that the “relevant construction is lawful, justified and reasonable and thus beyond reproach.” In response to this week’s reports, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Beijing was “deeply concerned” about the Pentagon’s proposal.

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