U.S. admiral cites evidence of new strategic Chinese land reclamation

Special to WorldTribune.com

Newly-detected activity by China around a disputed reef in the South China Sea is likely another attempt at land reclamation by the Chinese, the head of U.S. naval operations said.

Adm. John Richardson said on March 17 the U.S. has seen new Chinese activity around Scarborough Shoal in the northern part of the Spratly archipelago, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of the Philippine base of Subic Bay.

 image from US navy video purportedly shows Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. /Reuters
Image from U.S. Navy video purportedly shows Chinese dredging vessels in the disputed Spratly islands. /Reuters

“I think we see some surface ship activity and those sorts of things, survey type of activity, going on. That’s an area of concern … a next possible area of reclamation,” he said.

China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines nearly four years ago.

Richardson said the U.S. will continue to carry out freedom-of-navigation exercises within 12 nautical miles of disputed South China Sea areas.

The U.S. in 2013 responded to the East China Sea ADIZ by flying B-52 bombers through the zone in a show of force.

Richardson said China’s aggressive militarization of the South China Sea has increased the willingness of other countries in the region to work together.

India and Japan in 2014 joined the U.S. Navy in the Malabar naval exercise since and are slated to take part again this year in an even more complex exercise that will take place in an area close to the East and South China Seas.

South Korea, Japan and the United States were also working together more closely than ever before, Richardson said.

The Chinese activity near the reef comes as an international court ruling is expected in coming weeks on a case brought by the Philippines against China over its South China Sea claims.