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Inside China: China fortifies islands

- - Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Chinese government has appropriated $1.6 billion to fortify islands in the South China Sea currently claimed by other nations, notably the Philippines. The fortification plan includes construction of airports, piers and other facilities that could have both civilian and military uses.

The funds were specifically appropriated for the newly established Sansha City under the maritime province of Hainan.

"Sansha's immediate work is for airports, ports, piers and other important infrastructure as well as law enforcement vessels, supply ships and other projects to be established," Jiang Dingzhi, governor of Hainan, told the China-based 21st Century Business Herald.

The Philippine government reacted vehemently to reports of the fortification plan.

"Sansha City has been a subject of a Philippine protest as its administrative jurisdiction encompasses Philippine territory and maritime zones in the West Philippine Sea," the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said a statement issued Dec. 27.

Raul Hernandez, Manila's government spokesman, accused China of fortifying the city to boost its claim to the South China Sea, as demarcated by nine lines on a dispute map.

"China's action to fortify Sansha City is an attempt to reinforce its excessive Nine-Dash [line] claim, which is a violation of international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," he said.

China's Sansha City covers the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratly islands that Mr. Hernandez called "an integral part of the Philippine territory."

The Chinese military responded to the complaints from the Philippines with a large joint forces exercise Jan. 2 in the South China Sea.

Three days later, a high-ranking Philippine military commander from the Western Command announced that the Philippine government will build an extra large and long airfield runway on the main island of the Kalayaan, in addition to strengthening the military barracks and sentry posts there.

Physicist on a nuclear
powered navy

He Zuoxiu, China's most controversial nuclear physicist is a longtime opponent of land-based nuclear power plants because of fears of nuclear accidents. But now he wants virtually all classes of Chinese navy ships to be powered by nuclear reactors.

His logic is simple: A land-based nuclear accident based in China would kill many Chinese compatriots; but a nuclear mishap on a ship in the open sea would kill far fewer Chinese and the world would have to share the consequences together.

"Why do I oppose to building nuclear power plants in the hinterland?" Mr. He told the Chinese Science Journal in a November interview.

"Because a nuclear accident in the inland area will be catastrophic. And I am, however, for the idea of building the nuke plants closer to the sea coast because once an accident occurs, we can pump and drain the radioactive material to the sea so that Chinese people will suffer less."

Following the same logic, Mr. He said the ocean is the world's best nuclear safety laboratory because nuclear accidents will not harm China as much.

"I am even more fond of the proposal to utilize nuclear technology in ships. We should convert our submarines, aircraft carrier, even destroyers and ocean-going merchant ships to nuclear power," Mr. He said.

Mr. He was a member of the team that designed and engineered China's first atomic and hydrogen bombs in the late 1950s and early 1960s. However, nuclear accidents in the former Soviet Union, the United States and particularly Japan turned him into an ardent opponent to building nuclear power plants inland.

Mr. He is a member of the Council of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, but many challenged his credentials as a bona fide scientist because of his strong ideological bent on Marxism. He has been a diehard member of the Chinese Communist Party since 1948. He gained most notoriety for his vicious attacks on the spiritual grass-roots, quasi-Buddhist group Falun Gong whose members have been brutally repressed by the Chinese government since 1999.

"I like a comment about me that says that when He Zuoxiu was young, he was obsessed with how to apply Marxism to physics; when He Zuoxiu is getting old, he is now obsessed with how to apply principles of theoretical physics to Marxist philosophy," Mr. He said, with relish.

Miles Yu's column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.