Gen. Dunford: China’s militarization of islands, which it pledged not to do, is done deal

FPI / June 9, 2019

China has slowed down its military buildup in the South China Sea not because it has had a change of heart but because it believes its work is done, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. / AFP

Beijing clearly “walked away” from a commitment it made to former U.S. President Barack Obama not to militarize the South China Sea, Dunford said in a May 29 address to the Brookings Institute.

“What we see today are 10,000-foot runways, ammunition storage facilities, routine deployment of missile defense capabilities, aviation capabilities and so forth,” Dunford said. “So clearly they have walked away from that commitment.”

Dunford noted that China has eased up on its island-building and related construction in the South China Sea, at least for now.

The South China Sea encompasses a series of rocks and atolls including the Spratly and Paracel island chains that are variously claimed by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia for their fishing, mining and strategic potential. An estimated US$5 trillion in trade passes through the area annually.

Any future expansion by China in the South China Sea should be checked with clear and coherent collective action, Dunford said.

“I wasn’t suggesting a military response. But there’s certainly diplomatic and economic steps that can be taken to hold people accountable,” he said. “There are other tools, primarily other tools, to deal with it.”

Dunford’s statements came amid reports by Australian media that Australian military pilots have been distracted by lasers while flying in the region, with “informal Chinese militia vessels” believed to be responsible.

In its most recent annual report on China, the Pentagon said that Beijing places a premium on developing a military that can “fight and win”, that it is increasingly intent on operating beyond its borders and that the military build-up “improves China’s ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties.”

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