MANILA – After the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) earlier called a halt to China’s massive and rapid land reclamation activities, countries the United States (US) and Japan have also joined the association in expressing concerns over the ‘aggressive’ island-building.
The issue on territorial disputes was again raised in the ongoing 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting when US Secretary of State John Kerry questioned China’s real motive in its reclamation works as military posts were seen in some of its artificial islands.
“Secretary Kerry reiterated his concern about rising tensions over disputed claims in the South China Sea and China’s large-scale reclamation, construction and militarization of features there,” a US state department official said.
“He encouraged China, along with the other claimants, to halt problematic actions in order to create space for diplomacy,” the official added.
Japan State Minister Minoru Kiuchi, for his part, also expressed concern over the reclamation works. Japan has also been dealing with its own territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea.
“[I also have] deep concern over… [China’s] large-scale land reclamation, the construction of outposts and their use for military purposes,” Kiuchi said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, however, refused to talk about the territorial disputes in the said meeting and insisted that the issues should be handled on a bilateral basis through ‘peaceful discussions.’
To this, the 10-member ASEAN, Japan and the United States only disagreed as they believed that discussing the territorial disputes between rival countries only prevented a unified front.
Wang also stressed that China has already stopped reclaiming reefs in the contested Spratly Isands. He even urged concerned parties to fly over the region and see for themselves.
Wang clarified, however, that China may have stopped its reclamation works but it was not succumbing to the pressure of other claimants and concerned countries. He reiterated that the country had ‘undisputed sovereignty’ over the disputed waters.
An ASEAN diplomat, for its part, was not at all pleased. China might have already halted building artificial islands, but it has begun building infrastructures now. The country only stopped its reclamation works as it has already completed its plan.
“At the same time, China announced they are moving on to Phase 2, which is construction of facilities on the reclaimed features. The Philippines views these activities as destabilizing,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.
Should China continue its ‘unilateral and aggressive activities’ in the disputed South China Sea, regional and international tensions may heighten.