China rejected an appeal from the Obama administration earlier this month to halt “destabilizing” construction on disputed islets in the South China Sea, according to U.S. officials.
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel urged Chinese officials to halt rapidly expanding island construction over the past several years in the disputed Spratly Islands during a visit to Beijing.
According to officials familiar with the talks, Russel’s appeal was rejected during a meeting Feb. 10 with Zheng Zeguang, China’s assistant foreign minister, who said the construction was occurring within China’s area of sovereignty.
Zheng’s rejection of the request by Russel, the administration’s key Asia Pacific policymaker, echoed remarks by Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Sr. Col. Yang Yujun, who told reporters Jan. 29: “The construction and infrastructure maintenance on the reefs and islands in the South China Sea are legitimate and conducted in accordance with law. Other countries have no right to point fingers at such construction activities.”