According to this article from the NY Times, China is temporarily stopping their construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, because the U.S. is getting concerned (mad) and China doesn’t want to ruin this relationship. In the South China Sea, China is destroying the Philippines’ coral reefs, and the Philippines is the U.S.’s ally (and former colony), so the U.S. feels the need to protect the Philippines.
The article says that China is sending a maritime lawyer about this situation to Washington next week. Also, the man who runs China, Xi Jinping, will be in Washington in this September. He really doesn’t want “China as a threat” to be an issue for any presidential candidate for the 2016 election.
As Tensions With U.S. Grow, Beijing Says It Will Stop Building Artificial Islands in South China Sea
JUNE 16, 2015
BEIJING — By declaring Tuesday that it would soon complete its contentious program of building artificial islands in the South China Sea, Beijing hopes to diminish tensions with the United States while reassuring its home audience that it has delivered on its pledge to resist American military pressure, experts said.
Leaders from the United States and China are set to meet next week in Washington at a major annual conference, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. A topic of the talks there is expected to be the Obama administration’s opposition toChina’s building in the disputed waters, including the construction of a runway capable of handling military aircraft.
After those talks, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is scheduled to make his first visit to Washington as president in September.
“We need to find some way to let this topic not become so prominent, and China wants to head off the activity,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University and an adviser to the Chinese government. “We have a lot of other things to do.”
Professor Shi said China wanted the Washington conference to go smoothly ahead of Mr. Xi’s visit, during which he may be confronted aboutSouth China Sea expansion, cybertheft and trade.
In an announcement Tuesday on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Lu Kang, a spokesman, said that “relevant” departments in China had decided to go forward as planned with land reclamation work on some reefs and islands in the Spratly archipelago in the “coming days.”
He added that the sites in the Spratlys, which the Chinese call the Nansha Islands, would be used for “military defense needs” as well as “civilian demands,” including maritime search and rescue efforts, disaster prevention and mitigation, scientific research, meteorological observation, navigational safety measures and fishery services.
“After the land reclamation, we will start the building of facilities to meet relevant functional requirements,” Mr. Lu said.
Foreign analysts say the land reclamation efforts have been taking place at seven sites in the South China Sea.
“The dredging is almost finished, but construction of military facilities is not, and I would guess that the Chinese will accelerate those after the September summit,” said Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior adviser at the Center for Security and International Studies in Washington.
The United States accuses China of building 2,000 acres of land on the outcroppings in the last 18 months and of creating a runway at Fiery Cross Reef long enough to accommodate fighter jets.
At a security forum in Singapore last month, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter called on China to stop construction and warned that the United States would “fly, sail and operate” in the South China Sea to ensure freedom of navigation and flight as permitted by international law.
Mr. Carter’s pointed remarks, as well as flights by American surveillance planes close to Fiery Cross Reef, may have forced the Chinese to at least slow the pace of military installations on the new islands, a senior Asian diplomat said. One of the flights carried a CNN crew that recorded and broadcast the Chinese Navy repeatedly warning the plane to go away.
“The works underway will not stop — too politically damaging to do this — but whatever other things they may have in mind must now be rethought very carefully,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order not to offend the Chinese.
The Chinese have rushed to finish the military installations before the 2016 presidential election in the United States in order to remove them as a potential issue in the campaign, the diplomat said. The Pentagon’s reaction forced the Chinese to pause sooner than they had planned, he said.
The Chinese did not want to risk an air or sea confrontation with the United States in the South China Sea that could potentially rattle the grip of the Communist Party at home, the diplomat added.
Still, the risks of military clashes between China and the United States in the South China Sea are unacceptably high, Ms. Glaser said. “There is a pressing need for a dialogue between the U.S. and China on the application of the Law of the Sea to the artificial islands and associated maritime rights,” she added.
The Chinese are sending a specialist maritime lawyer from the State Oceanic Administration, the state body that has a large voice in China’s policies in the South China Sea, to the conference in Washington next week, a sign that the Chinese are prepared for tough discussions, Ms. Glaser said.
One of China’s most outspoken officials on the South China Sea, Wu Sichun, who heads the influential South China Sea Institute, said China had been “forced” to create the artificial islands as a way of defending itself. That view is popular among the Chinese public.
“China is forced to do the reclamation,” Mr. Wu said in a recent interview in Beijing. “Because we feel insecure. If you look into the security situation, the United States enhanced the defense cooperation with the Philippines, and that could last for 10 years.”
The United States was also involved in strengthening Japan’s new military rules that allow more robust joint patrols with Japan in the South China Sea, presenting another challenge to China, he said.
But Mr. Wu also expressed concern about the impact building the islands could have on relations between China and the United States. It is very unlikely, he said, that China will declare an air defense “identification zone” over the South China Sea as it did over the East China Sea in 2013. Such a zone provides an early warning system to assist a country in detecting incursions into its sovereign airspace.
Some United States military analysts, however, have said they believe that China’s militarization of Fiery Cross Reef was aimed at establishing an air defense zone as soon as possible.