China accused the United States of hypocrisy Friday over President Barack Obama’s comments that the rising Asian power is using its “sheer size and muscle” to intimidate other nations in the South China Sea.
Satellite photos published this week showed that Chinese dredgers are effectively building an island of sand on a reef in the Spratly Islands, which the Chinese call the Nansha Islands. The area – appropriately named Mischief Reef – sits off the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, all of which have claims on the Spratlys, as do Brunei and Taiwan.
“Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” Obama said Thursday in response to a question at a forum in Kingston, Jamaica.
“We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside,” he said.
Asked about Obama’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying suggested that the United States should consider its own history of bullying other countries.
“I think everyone can see very clearly who it is in the world who is using the greatest size and muscle,” she said. She urged the United States to act constructively in resolving the region’s territorial disputes.
China claims about 80 percent of the South China Sea, which serves as a vital shipping route and fishing area for all of Asia. Last year, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels clashed over an oil rig China had installed in a section of the sea called the Paracel Islands. The two countries have since been trying to patch up relations.
The latest dispute involves China’s massive dredging and piling up of sand on Mischief Reef, possibly a precursor to some sort of military installation.
Last week, Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, took aim at China’s attempt to shore up its territorial claims by creating land where previously there was none.
“China is creating a great wall of sand, with dredges and bulldozers,” Harris said in a speech in Canberra, Australia.
In response, Hua said Thursday that China had “ indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters.” She acknowledged that building up the islands would serve military needs, but noted it also would allow China to provide maritime assistance in a remote area during emergencies, such as following a typhoon.
“China sticks to the path of peaceful development and upholds a defense policy that is defensive in nature,” Hua said. “Peace and stability of the South China Sea serves China’s interests of development and security.”
A recent article in the independent Defense News detailed how a new seaplane China is developing may allow it to solidify its hold over the South China Sea.
The aircraft – the Jiaolong (Water Dragon) AG600, developed by China Aviation Industry General Aircraft – will be China’s largest operational seaplane, easily able to hop from island to island in the Spratlys, Defense News said, citing military experts.
One of these was Richard Bitzinger, coordinator of the Military Transformations Program at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who said: “Amphibious planes like the AG600 would be perfect for resupplying the new artificial islands that the Chinese are building.”
While the Obama administration has said the United States is neutral on maritime disputes in the region, U.S. officials have stepped up their criticism of Beijing in recent days.
“China’s land reclamation and construction activities are fueling greater anxiety within the region about China’s intentions amid concerns that they might militarize outposts on disputed land features in the South China Sea,” Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman, said Thursday in a briefing in Washington.
China has all but rejected U.S. claims of neutrality in settling territorial disputes in a region with thousands of years of conflict.
On Thursday, the state-run Xinhua news service published a commentary that said U.S. officials were “fishing for trouble” with their recent comments about the South China Sea.
“Washington has repeatedly violated its pledge to remain neutral regarding disputes on the South China Sea,” said the commentary by Wang Haiqing, a Xinhua writer. “Moreover, it has never missed an opportunity to talk about the ‘China threat’ when it comes to the issue, and tries to pit other countries against China.”