In 2013, Beijing launched its land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. Focused primarily on the Spratly archipelago, Washington has repeatedly described the project as provocative, alleging that it violates international law.
"The infrastructure China appears to be building would enable it to establish a more robust power projection presence into the South China Sea," a new Pentagon report notes.
Beijing has asserted its right to build within its own territory, and pointed out that the United States is acting aggressively by hosting multiple military exercises in the South China Sea, even though it has no territorial claim in the region.
But Washington may be even more concerned now that a new Pentagon report has found the islands to be significantly larger than the military’s first estimates. While US officials said the land reclamation amounted to 2,000 acres, the new estimate is over 2,900 acres.
"China is unilaterally altering the physical status quo in the region, thereby complicating diplomatic initiatives that could lower tensions," reads the report.
The Pentagon report fails to criticize, however, the land reclamation projects launched by other nations in the region. Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam have all conducted similar efforts in the Spratlys. Dredging sand from the seabed, these nations have been piling earth onto sunken reefs to create permanent military installations.
The report also fails to mention the fact that Beijing has repeatedly stated the islands will be used primarily for humanitarian purposes.
"China stands ready to open these facilities to other countries upon completion," Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said in response to the report.
"We hope the US side will view this in an objective and balanced way and respect regional countries' efforts to maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea."
A highly contested waterway through which nearly $5 trillion in trade passes annually, the Chinese government lays claim to most of the South China Sea. There are, however, overlapping claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Brunei.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced Beijing had "complete the relevant island and reef area reclamation project," adding that its actions were "completely within the scope of China’s sovereignty."
Washington’s criticism of Beijing is especially baffling given its own history of seizing Pacific islands. As Andrew Korybko pointed out for Sputnik, America has used its Guano Island Act to claim a number of small islands in the Western Pacific, far from the shores of the continental United States.