In the dock for its aggressive expansionism in the South China Sea, China seems undeterred
THE Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual powwow in Singapore for Asia-Pacific defence chiefs, has begun to follow a pattern: America and its friends in Asia line up to criticise China for its alleged transgressions in the seas around its coast; China issues fierce, mendacious and unconvincing rebuttals; everybody goes home. Last year, China’s crimes were its declaration of an Air-Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over an area including islands it disputes with Japan; and its dispatch of an oil-rig to drill in waters claimed by Vietnam. The row was vitriolic. This year, it has been building frantically in contested waters in the South China Sea. At Shangri-La, both the criticism and its response were more measured. But the disagreements seem even more profound and irreconcilable than a year ago, and China even more isolated.
Five of the six countries with claims to all or some of the reefs and islets in the South China Sea have built structures on them, often after reclaiming land. China, however, has taken this to unprecedented lengths. In his speech at the Dialogue, America’s defence secretary, Ash Carter, said China had filled in over 2,000 acres (810 hectares), “more than all other claimants combined…and more than in the entire history of the region”; and all in the past 18 months. He called this a “source of tension”.