This Thursday U.S. President Barack Obama spoke out on reports of Chinese land reclamation efforts in the area, claiming that Beijing was “using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions.” The accusation did not go down well with the Chinese, who hit back on Friday, according to AFP.
China bullying neighbors over territorial claims
“The US leader talked about China’s ‘sheer size and muscle’, but one can also see clearly who has the biggest size and muscle in the world,” said China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. She implored the U.S. to “genuinely make efforts to safeguard peace and stability” in the South China Sea.
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China asserts sovereignty over the majority of the Sea, which also includes areas close to the coastline of other nations. Territorial claims from The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan overlap with China’s, who are using a line which was first used on Chinese maps in the 1940s.
A U.S.-based think-tank called the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has published satellite images showing how China is reclaiming land in the area, some of which show a flotilla of Chinese ships dredging sand onto an artificially created feature known as Mischief Reef.
Land reclamation to undermine ruling?
The Spratly Islands also provide further evidence of China’s attempts to bolster its territorial claims by undertaking infrastructure projects. Before-and-after photos show aircraft runways sprouting from jungle-covered outcrops, solid masses replacing coral reefs and man-made harbors. Analysts say that these projects are an attempt to create “facts in the water” that could strengthen territorial claims.
The Philippines have been among the most outspoken critics of China’s activities in the region and appealed to the international community to act on the matter, after admitting that it and other affected nations are in effect powerless in the face of China’s construction of the artificial islands. China declared a defense budget of $142.9 billion for this year, while the Philippines will spend $2.6 billion.
Obama has previously spoken out on China’s bullying of its smaller neighbors, and supports its allies in opposing Chinese territorial claims. Manila believes that the reclamation projects are designed to undermine an expected United Nations ruling on the issue next year, and China is using its financial might to pervert the course of justice.