TOKYO — An influential U.S. Navy official made waves recently with an unusually open criticism of Beijing. “China is creating a great wall of sand, with dredges and bulldozers, over the course of months,” he said.
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry Harris’ remarks highlight a growing sense of crisis among American military about Beijing’s recent behavior in the South China Sea.
Harris was referring to land reclamation work China has been carrying out at a breakneck pace. The country is locked in territorial disputes with the Philippines and other countries in the area.
China is pushing ahead with land reclamation on seven islands and reefs that it controls on an “unprecedented” scale, as Harris put it. The move appears to be part of efforts to create multiple artificial islands in the South China Sea and build military footholds there, according to Japanese and U.S. military experts.
Harris said that the pace and scope of land reclamation “raise serious questions about China’s intentions” and runs counter to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, a statement signed in 2002 by China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It calls for self-restraint in territorial disputes.