UPDATED 8:55 AM PT — Wed. February 7, 2018
Several Asian nations are showing concern over China’s push to militarize small islands across the Pacific.
New photos released by a Philippine newspaper show the extent of the buildup across the South China Sea.
Docks, concrete runways, and even multi-story buildings now fill almost every inch of several dozen man-made islands, which China claims now belong to them.
“China carrying out peaceful construction on its own sovereign territory is only to contribute more to the region’s peace, maritime safety, disaster prevention, ocean research and search and rescue,” stated Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “Of course, China also needs to construct necessary defense equipment for its territory..these equipment are not directed at any particular country.”
The U.S. has condemned the controversial project for years.
The islands, while provocative, also happen to be located along some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
If China’s claims to the islands were to be internationally recognized, the country would instantly gain thousands of miles worth of offshore territory.
The U.S. military has responded with so-called freedom of navigation operations in which the Navy sends a warship only a few dozen miles away from an island installation, triggering stern comments from Chinese officials.
The last freedom of navigation operation happened nearly a month ago, but Secretary of Defense James Mattis has promised the military will to continue watching over the region.
“We can help in maintaining the maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea, the North Natuna Sea, this is something that we look forward to doing,” Mattis stated.
The association of Southeast Asian nations is working on a new framework to deal with the reality of fully-militarized islands, but it’s unclear if China will cooperate.