The United States has issued a strong warning to China over its land reclamation programme in the South China Sea.
Ash Carter, the US defence secretary, condemned the actions of Beijing officials at a security conference in Singapore and said that turning underwater land into airfields was out of step with international rules.
Mr Carter claimed China will not expand its sovereignty by creating the artificial islands, adding to the room full of Asia-Pacific leaders, that the US was opposed to “any further militarisation” of the disputed territory.
The remarks were immediately rebuked by a Chinese military officer in the audience, who was present with Beijing officials, labelling them “groundless and not constructive”.
China's territorial disputes
China's territorial disputes
1/5 South China Sea
A satellite image of what is claimed to be an under-construction airstrip at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea
2/5 South China Sea
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef
3/5 South China Sea
A Chinese Guided Missile Frigate Hengshui docked at a port in Yalong Bay in Sanya, south China's Hainan Province. China's military compared its controversial island reclamation project in the South China Sea to ordinary construction going on in other parts of the country, such as the building of roads and apartments
4/5 South China Sea
The alleged on-going land reclamation of China at Subi reef is seen from Pagasa island (Thitu Island) in the Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines
5/5 South China Sea
U.S. military forces aboard Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) manuevre on South China Sea near the shore of San Antonio, Zambales during the annual "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games with Filipino soldiers in northern Philippines. The U.S. Marine Corps is bringing together foreign commanders from amphibious forces deployed mostly in the Asia-Pacific for a conference aimed at taking initial steps to integrate their operations, with China excluded from the event, according to officials and planning documents
The comments come after China was revealed to have placed two large artillery vehicles on one of the artificial islands in the South China Sea.
The weapons were allegedly discovered several weeks ago, although the US has claimed the vehicles have since been removed. The development has fuelled fears that China intends to use the land for military purposes.
Mr Carter said: “Turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.
“Right now, at this critical juncture, is the time for renewed diplomacy, focused on a finding a lasting solution that protects the rights and interests of all,” he added.
Responding to the allegations, Hua Chunying, China’s Foreign Military spokeswoman, said: “[The US] should stop making any provocative remarks, because such remarks do not ease the controversies in the South China Sea, but they also will aggravate the regional peace and stability.”
The US has been flying surveillance aircraft in the region, prompting China to file a formal protest.
China has said the islands are its territory and that the buildings and other infrastructure are for public service use and to support fishermen.Reuse content