At regional meetings in Kuala Lumpur recently, China attempted to reassure regional nations of its peaceful intentions and deflect attention from its destabilizing activities in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea. Speaking to reporters, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Beijing had halted dredging sand to build artificial islands. “China has already stopped. You just take an airplane to take a look,” he maintained.
But Wang said nothing about ongoing construction and militarization of several land features. A 10,000-foot runway is nearly complete on Fiery Cross Reef, and according to Pacific Commander Harry Harris, the Chinese appear to be building hangars for tactical fighters. Satellite imagery also suggests that China may be getting ready to build a second runway on nearby Subi Reef. Early warning radar stations, military barracks, helipads, and lookout towers have been installed on several features and harbors large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants are being built.
Wang Yi’s remarks were timed to coincide with a series of high level meetings in Malaysia this week led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in which the United States participates. Pressure has been building on China to exercise self-restraint and engage in purposeful dialogue aimed at lowering tensions in the South China Sea.