Pacific News Minute: Spratly Island Tension

Jun 10, 2015

Credit Do Kien Trung / Flickr

The deputy head of China's Central Military Commission is on a visit to the U.S. Fan Changlong's stops include Naval Air Station  North Island in San Diego, the aircraft Carrier USS Ronald Reagan, and, tomorrow, the Pentagon, where he meets with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Rising tensions in the South China Sea will likely top the agenda, as we hear from Neal Conan today's Pacific News Minute.

Satellite and air reconnaissance photos show Chinese dredges hauling up sand from the sea floor to build up rocks and shoals in the Spratley Islands and at least two are now large enough to support air fields and naval facilities. Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan, which also have claims in the Spratleys, built some facilities of their own, but ceased after a mutual agreement, an agreement they say China continues to violate. On a visit to Japan this week, Phillipines President Benigno Aquino drew a comparison to Nazi Germany.   In a speech to Japan's parliament, the Diet, he asked whether stopping Adolph Hitler's expansionism in the 1930s might have averted the Second World War.

Chinese officials were unhappy with those remarks, and even more upset last week, when an American reconnaissance plane brought along a crew from CNN to shoot video of dredging activities, and recorded Chinese radio operator ordering the American military plane to leave.

Formally, the U.S. takes no position on the overlapping claims in the area, but insists on freedom of navigation, a substantial fraction of the world's shipping passes across the South China Sea and there are believed to be rich deposits of oil and gas below.

Last month Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army told a regional security forum in Singapore that China might set up an air defense identification zone if it felt that its sovereignty was under threat. Secretary of Defense Carter told that same meeting, quote, we all know that turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty.