The State Department on Sunday accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of failing to abide by a promise not to militarize disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Mr. Xi said five years ago in a Rose Garden meeting with then-President Barack Obama that China would not “pursue militarization” of the Spratlys islands located in the southern part of the sea.
He further promised that Chinese military facilities on disputed islands there would not “target or impact any country.”
“China has instead pursued a reckless and provocative militarization of those disputed outposts,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement noting the Sept. 25, 2015, promise by Mr. Xi.
“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,” Ms. Ortagus noted.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using the militarized outposts as “platforms of coercion to assert control over waters to which Beijing has no lawful maritime claim.”
Additionally, the disputed islands are being used by China’s large force of hundreds of maritime militia ships and Chinese Coast Guard vessels that have been regularly harassing civilian craft engaged in offshore fishing, and oil and gas development by regional states.
“The CCP does not honor its words or commitments,” Ms. Ortagus said.
The South China Sea has been the location of an increased Navy freedom of navigation operations and aerial overflights designed to show the waterway, which sees an estimated $5 trillion annually in trade, is an open and free international waterway.
In recent months a number of regional states have voiced formal opposition at the United Nations to China’s unlawful maritime claims, she said.
“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,” Ms. Ortagus.
The United States will continue resist China’s efforts to establish dominion over the South China Sea.
China has claimed some 90% of the South China Sea under a vague historical that the strategic waterway is Chinese maritime territory.
The international Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands rule several years ago that China’s maritime claims in the sea are illegal.
China, however, rejected the court’s ruling that was brought in a case by the government of Philippines.
The Pentagon disclosed that China began deploying both anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on disputed South China Sea in April 2018. The Chinese military also has deployed electronic warfare.
Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said during a Senate hearing in 2018 that the Chinese military buildup in the sea began in 2013 on Johnson Reef in the Spratlys and then led to fortifications on Johnson Reef and six others.
“In the South China Sea, the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has constructed a variety of radar, electronic attack, and defense capabilities on the disputed Spratly Islands, to include: Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, Johnson Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef,” he said.
“These facilities significantly expand the real-time domain awareness, [intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance], and jamming capabilities of the PLA over a large portion of the South China Sea, presenting a substantial challenge to U.S. military operations in this region,” Adm. Davidson noted.
Chinese bases include hangars, barracks, underground fuel and water storage facilities, and bunkers for “offense and defensive kinetic and non-kinetic systems,” he said.
Adm. Davidson said the militarization will allow China’s military to challenge the U.S. presence in the region and could be used by Beijing to overwhelm the military forces of regional states.
“In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” he said.