China says it plans to construct an “island city” in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, in a move that has sparked the United States’ objection.
An official in the southernmost Chinese territory of Sansha announced the plan on Monday, saying the development would proceed on a directive from President Xi Jinping.
Under the plan, Yongxing Island, along with the two smaller islets of Zhaoshu and Jinqing, would be turned into a “national key strategic service and logistics base.”
“We need to carefully plan the overall development of the islands and reefs based on their different functions, taking into account their complementary relationship,” Zhang Jun, the Communist Party secretary of Sansha City, said in a statement.
Zhang said local officials would “take active steps and demonstrate their initiatives” to provide a “satisfactory report card” to the president. He provided no further details about the plan.
China has constructed several artificial islands over the past few years in the South China Sea, which is the subject of a territorial dispute between Beijing and its maritime neighbors Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.
The US — which sides with China’s rival claimants in their dispute — has been accusing China of “militarizing” the South China Sea. It also routinely sends warships and warplanes close to the islands in what it call “freedom of navigation” patrols.
Reacting to the news of development plans for the “island city,” a US Navy commander, Phillip Sawyer, said Washington would oppose any move that would restrict American engagement in the region, particularly in the disputed waters. He said the US had no intention to leave the region or scale down its engagement with its allies or cease its “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea.
“We will continue to do it until there are no excessive maritime claims throughout the world,” Sawyer said.
The navy commander (pictured below) went on to say that “international waters where goods and commerce flow” should remain open and that “blocking them off illegally should be a concern for the entire world.”
China does not plan to block international trade routes.
China says it has to take defensive measures for its sovereign territory in the South China Sea and that such action is normal.
Chinese Navy academy researcher Senior Capt. Zhang Junshe reiterated that Beijing had the legal right to take whatever measures it deems appropriate on the islands in the South China Sea.
“If our on-island personnel and installations come under threat in future, then we necessarily will take measures to boost our defensive capabilities,” Zhang said.
China’s naval force has been growing more powerful and modern over the past years, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ 2019 assessment of global military capabilities and defense economics.
Figures released on Sunday show that 51 of China’s 59 submarines are viewed as modern and up-to-date. Sixty seven of its 86 destroyers and frigates — mostly commissioned in recent years — are top-of-the-line, according to the institute.