Japan: Militarized islands would expand China influence

Japan: Militarized islands would expand China influence

The Associated Press

Japan’s top naval officer said the entire South China Sea could fall under China’s military sphere of influence if it uses the artificial islands it has built there for military purposes.

Adm. Tomohisa Takei urged countries in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to forge strong relations with the U.S., whose presence he said was needed for regional stability.

His comments, delivered in August 2015 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington, D.C., reflect Japanese concern with the assertive behavior of China, a strategic rival.

Since 2014, Chinese workers and vessels have transformed previously submerged reefs into artificial islands, in essence expanding the Spratly Islands. In less than a year, they created more than 10 square kilometers of new land on seven sites across an archipelago whose total land area had originally been approximately 4 square kilometers.

Fiery Cross Reef, which was submerged at high tide when occupied by China in 1988, now boasts a land mass of 2.74 square kilometers and is large enough to host a 3,100-meter-long airstrip and a 63-hectare harbor.

Nearly six times larger than Itu Aba, the largest natural island in the Spratly Islands, Fiery Cross Reef is still smaller than two other artificial islands. By June 2015, China had created 4 square kilometers and 5.6 square kilometers at Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, respectively, and these numbers were still growing at press time, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative website http://amti.csis.org/island-tracker.

U.S. ally Japan is not among the half-dozen claimant states in the South China Sea, but Takei said those waters need to be free and open for regional prosperity.

Seven countries have overlapping claims in the single sea. China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands to the southeast. Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei also stake claims to the Spratlys. Indonesia has no territorial dispute in the South China Sea, but it claims maritime zones that overlap with China’s and Taiwan’s so-called dashed-line claims.

China says the new outposts will support services such as maritime search and rescue, but China hasn’t denied they will have military functions, too.