Beijing Asserts Right to Develop South China Sea Islands

China said on Tuesday that it has the right to develop South China Sea islands as it sees fit and accuses the United States that it has fully militarized at least three of the several islands it has built in the disputed waterway.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing that China’s deployment of necessary national defense facilities on its territory is a right entitled to every sovereign country and is in line with international law, which is beyond reproach.

Wang added that U.S. military activities in the area aimed to ‘stir up trouble and make provocations’.

“That seriously threatens the sovereignty and security of coastal countries and undermines the order and navigation safety in the South China Sea,” Wang added.

On Sunday, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Adm. John C. Aquilino said China had armed the islands with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, fighter jets, and laser and jamming equipment, in an increasingly hostile move that threatens all nations operating nearby.

Aquilino said the hostile actions were in stark contrast to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s previous assurances that Beijing would not turn the artificial islands in disputed waters into military bases. Aquilino added that the efforts were part of China’s flexing of its military muscle.

“I think over the past 20 years we’ve witnessed the largest military buildup since World War II by the PRC,” Aquilino told The Associated Press in an interview, using the initials of China’s formal name. 

“They have advanced all their capabilities and that buildup of weaponization is destabilizing to the region,” Aquilino added.

China virtually claims the entire South China Sea as its territory, which is home to fish stocks and undersea minerals, along with sea lanes through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year.

China declines to acknowledge claims from five other governments to some or all of the waterway and disregarded the findings of a United Nations-backed arbitration tribunal that invalidated China’s sweeping historical claims under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The fully militarized islands are among seven China has built in recent years by piling sand and concrete atop coral reefs, causing significant damage to the marine environment.

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