China has dramatically ramped up its land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea this year, building artificial islands at an unprecedented pace to bolster its territorial claims in the disputed area, US officials said Friday.
The rapid construction of artificial islands in the strategic waters comes to 2,000 acres (800 hectares), with 75 per cent of the total in the last five months, officials said.
“China has expanded the acreage on the outposts it occupies by some four hundred times,” said a US defence official.
The United States did not endorse land reclamation by any of the countries with territorial claims in the South China Sea, but “the pace and scale of China’s land reclamation in recent years dwarfs that of any other claimant,” the official said.
The South China Sea is home to strategically vital shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas. Washington is concerned China’s efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine America’s naval and economic power in the Pacific.
Washington urged restraint, and said the land reclamation could threaten regional stability.
“We urge all claimants to pursue peaceful and diplomatic approaches to maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea,” a defence official told AFP.
“We do not believe that large-scale land reclamation is consistent with the region’s desire for peace and stability.”
The commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harry Harris, said in March that China is “creating a Great Wall of sand.”
US officials released the reclamation estimate as the Pentagon issued its annual report to Congress on the state of China’s military, which repeated accusations that Beijing was staging cyber attacks to scoop up information on American defence programmes.
The report also warned that China has made major strides with a range of satellites as well as anti-satellite jammers, saying it now had “the most dynamic space program in the world today.”
China blasted the US report on Saturday, expressing opposition and accusing it of distorting facts.
“The US defence department’s report on China’s military and security development situation distorts facts and continues to play up the ‘China military threat’ cliche,” Chinese defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said.