"It's increasingly clear that China intends to use its artificial islands in the South China Sea for military purposes." Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia in the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), insists.
It remains unclear though, why Glaser jumped to such a conclusion since Beijing has repeatedly stressed that its construction efforts are aimed at improving the country's maritime search and rescue capability in order to help other nations.
"Under international maritime conventions, China has responsibilities to perform rescue operations in the South China Sea… So it is very necessary to construct or upgrade infrastructure on islands and reefs in the South China Sea, as we can then send rescue ships and planes there in case of emergency," Yin Zhuo, Director of the Expert Consultation Committee of the People's Liberation Army Navy, told Chinese journalists.
However, Glaser believes that China will equip the outposts in the Spratly Island chain with radars and surveillance equipment and deploy there its fighter jets, surveillance aircraft, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), airborne early warning and control aircraft, anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles.
Furthermore, the American adviser insisted that China may also declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) "over part or all of the area within its nine-dashed line claim."
"Calls for China to halt its artificial island building in the Spratlys have not been heeded… However, there is still a possibility to put a cap on militarization of the islands by China and the other claimants. The deployment of offensive power projection capabilities by any claimant would be dangerous and destabilizing," Glaser warned, referring to some "growing uncertainty" prompted by China's artificial island building and suggesting that Beijing may violate freedom of navigation in the region.
In its turn, China's Defense Ministry has openly criticized Washington for "making irresponsible remarks on the South China Sea issue" and accused the US of "activities to militarize the South China Sea region."
Defense Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun has lambasted the US for its blatant double standard approach.
"The US side has remained silent on the massive construction activities conducted by some countries such as the Philippines on the illegally occupied Chinese islands and reefs, in addition the US has made irresponsible accusations against China on the legal activities of China on its own territory," Senior Colonel Yang Yujun told journalists during an official press conference, adding that "the US side has been sending ships and planes to conduct frequent close-in reconnaissance activities against China in the South China Sea region."
"The US side disregards and distorts the fact, and plays up 'China's military threat' to sow discords between China and China's maritime neighbors in the South China Sea. We firmly oppose such actions," Senior Colonel Yang Yujun stressed.