Under the leadership of the Communist party, China is building what an American admiral, Harry Harris, calls a “great wall of sand” in the strategically important waterways of the South China Sea.
The Chinese are dredging the sea bed to transform a few reefs and rocks in the Spratly group of islands and atolls – which they claim – into man-made islands with a runway that can support military flights. This has caused great concern among their neighbours. The Chinese government rejects international criticisms, asserts its sovereign right to build on the islands, and demands that American naval surveillance aircraft overflying the new islands leave the Chinese air control zone immediately. There are also reports that China has begun to put heavy weapons on one of them.
While one of the new islands looks like an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the making, it is unlikely to be built to project Chinese air power. In the age of long-range missiles and precision weapons, immovable aircraft carriers are easy targets. What really motivates the Chinese government is something more strategic.
By transforming rocks into islands, the Chinese government is creating a reality on the ground in asserting its sovereignty over these disputed rocks and laying the ground to claim the territorial waters around them. The Chinese statement that they will eventually allow others to use facilities on the islands for disaster relief or rescue operations is significant. To take advantage of them, users will no doubt need to acknowledge Chinese sovereignty.