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US State Dept. calls out China for ’empty promises’ not to militarize South China Sea

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at Richard Nixon Presidential Library, in Yorba Linda, Calif., on July 23, 2020. (Ron Przysucha/U.S. State Department)
September 29, 2020

The U.S. State Department criticized China and Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping for breaking with its Sept. 25, 2015 assurance that China would not militarize the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea.

In an official statement Sunday, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus highlighted China’s actions in the five years since Xi offered his assurance that China would avoid militarizing the islands, noting that China has built facilities and moved military equipment on to the disputed archipelago.

“Five years ago on September 25, 2015, General Secretary Xi Jinping stood in the White House Rose Garden and stated ‘China does not intend to pursue militarization’ of the Spratly Islands, and China’s outposts would not ‘target or impact any country,'” Ortagus stated. “China has instead pursued a reckless and provocative militarization of those disputed outposts, they have deployed anti-ship cruise missiles, expanded military radar and signal intelligence capabilities, constructed dozens of fighter jet hangars, and have built runways capable of accommodating combat aircraft.”

China has built artificial islands on top of reefs in the Spratly Island archipelago, and have placed military equipment on them for years. In April 2018, Chinese military radar jammers were photographed on Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef, two reefs China has built up into artificial islands. China has continued to add to its military presence in the Spratly Islands. Chinese warships and fighter jets were deployed to the Spratly Islands as recently as August.

“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses these militarized outposts as platforms of coercion to assert control over waters to which Beijing has no lawful maritime claim,” Ortagus’ statement continued. “They serve as staging grounds for the hundreds of maritime militia vessels and China Coast Guard ships that regularly harass civilian craft and impede legitimate law enforcement activities, offshore fishing, and hydrocarbon development by neighboring states.”

In July a Chinese ship rammed into a Vietnamese fishing vessel in an apparent effort to enforce a unilateral fishing ban in the South China Sea. In April, Chinese sailors shined a laser at a Philippine Navy ship.

Ortagus said, “The CCP does not honor its words or commitments. In recent months, we have seen an unprecedented number of states express their formal opposition at the United Nations to China’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea.”

In July, the U.S. filed an official statement rejecting Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. Australia, France, Germany and the U.K. have also joined in denouncing China’s claims in the disputed sea region. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have also raised claims to territorial control in the South China Sea, conflicting with China’s claims.

Ortagus concluded her statement, saying, “We urge the international community to continue to raise its opposition to this unacceptable and dangerous behavior, and to make clear to the CCP that we will hold it to account. The United States will continue to stand with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in resisting China’s coercive efforts to establish dominion over the South China Sea.