SINGAPORE: China on Sunday rejected US demands to stop reclamation works in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying it was exercising its sovereignty and using the controversial outposts to fulfill international responsibilities.
Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the general staff department in the People’s Liberation Army, told a security summit in Singapore that “the situation in the South China Sea is on the whole peaceful and stable, and there has never been an issue with the freedom of navigation.”
“China has carried out construction on some islands and reefs mainly for the purpose of improving the functions of the relevant islands and reefs, and the working and living conditions of personnel stationed there.
“Apart from meeting the necessary defense needs, it is more geared to better perform China’s international responsibilities and obligations regarding maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and relief, maritime scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental protection, safety of navigation, fishery production, services,” Sun said.
China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves, but rival claimants accuse it of expansionism.
“When dealing with maritime disputes with relevant neighboring countries, China has always kept in mind the larger interest of maritime security,” Sun told the annual meeting known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
“In spite of the sufficient historical and legal evidence and its indisputable claims, rights and interests, China has exercised enormous restraint, making positive contributions to peace and stability of the region and the world at large.”
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter earlier demanded an immediate end to all reclamation works by claimants and said Beijing was “out of step” with international norms with its behavior in disputed waters.
Carter said “there should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation[s]by all claimants,” adding that “we also oppose any further militarization of disputed features.”
He acknowledged that other claimants have developed outposts of differing scope and degree, including Vietnam with 48, the Philippines with eight, Malaysia with five and Taiwan with one.
“Yet, one country has gone much farther and much faster than any other.
“China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined and more than in the entire history of the region. And China did so in only the last 18 months,” Carter said.
Representatives from claimant countries as well others from Southeast Asia and Europe urged restraint on all parties in handling the dispute.
Other delegates, including Singapore’s defense chief Ng Eng Hen, his British counterpart Michael Fallon and the European Union’s foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini repeated calls by Carter for China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to adopt a “code of conduct” in the disputed waters as soon as possible.
The Philippines also on Sunday said it will continue to adopt a three-pronged action in dealing with China.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the government will follow legitimate and diplomatic rules in resolving its dispute with Beijing.
The triple action plan will tackle immediate, intermediate and final approaches to addressing “destabilizing activities” or conflict in the region.
The action plan involves the cessation of activities in the area, implementation of a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties and arbitration of maritime claims.
Coloma said the Philippines has stopped all construction or maintenance work in areas it occupies.
Beijing is undertaking land reclamations in seven disputed areas.
A surveillance photo of Burgos Reef (Gaven Reef) showed that China has constructed a building as large as the Mall of Asia in Pasay City (Metro Manila), according to Defense officials.
China’s territorial claims overlap those of Taiwan as well as Asean members the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Vietnam.