Responding to recent reports of China’s land reclamation around its islands and reefs in the South China Sea, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on March 8 that the country “has every right to do things that are lawful and justified”, and the decision is not targeting any party.
Wang made the remarks at a news conference in Beijing on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature.
The top diplomat was sending a message that China’s efforts in boosting infrastructure facilities on the territorial islands actually contribute to regional navigation safety and are justified measures for strengthening administration, Chinese experts said.
Wang also warned against illegal island constructions by some other countries in the region.
“We are not like some countries who engage in illegal construction in another person’s house, and we do not accept criticism from others when we are merely building facilities in our own yard,” Wang said.
“China is carrying out necessary construction on its own islands and reefs. The construction does not target or affect anyone,” Wang said.
Li Jinming, a professor of maritime law and South China Sea studies at Xiamen University, said Wang’s message regarding the territorial islands in the South China Sea was delivered “in a very timely, clarified manner” because some territorial islands and reefs have been illegally occupied by other countries in past decades.
“China’s reclamation construction has not undermined freedom of navigation at all,” Li said.
“The necessary fishery facilities built on the islands will help provide better search and rescue services when a vessel gets into difficulties in the Sea,” Li added.
Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said that championing lawful rights and interests regarding buildings on the islands and developing energy resources there “remains one of the demanding tasks” of China.
Wang said that China will “continue to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, peacefully resolve disputes through direct dialogue and consultation, and play a constructive role in maintaining regional peace and stability”.
At the news conference, Wang also dismissed speculation that the land reclamation move signals a change in China’s policy toward the South China Sea and even the area.
China’s policy there is guided by the principles of “amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness”, and it aims to bring harmony, stability and prosperity to the area, Wang said.
“This policy has not and will not change,” Wang said.
Li, the professor, observed that the Philippines is seeking international arbitration over the South China Sea issue. “Manila attempts to justify its claim over the illegally occupied islands by obtaining support from Washington and utilizing international voices,” Li warned.