During the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Summit in Manila, which ended last week, President Barack Obama reiterated the US position, calling on China to stop the construction of artificial islands and new infrastructure in the area of sea dispute. The answer wasn’t long in coming. At the summit of the ASEAN countries, held in Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, through the Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, accused Washington of wanting an escalation and defended the construction activities at sea, launched in 2013 and still in progress today.
First Obama, at the opening of the APEC summit in Manila, last Wednesday, pushed the issue of the South China Sea on the political agenda of the 21 leaders. After meeting with the President of the Philippines, Benigno S. Aquino III, Obama spoke to the press urging Beijing to cease all military activity in that part of the sea and to accept international arbitration to reconcile differences with its neighbors in South-East Asia.
“We agree on the need for bold steps to lower tensions – Mr. Obama said – including pledging to halt further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas in the South China Sea,”
Without taking a position on the front of the territorial claims made by the involved countries, the United States consider free navigation on the waters of the contended area as a vital point. For this reason, they confirmed their commitment to the side of the South Asian governments who oppose Chinese expansionism, and ensured the Allies a contribution of $ 250 million for military spending.
Beijing’s response came on November 22, during the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur. Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin asserted the legitimacy and legality of Chinese government initiatives, reiterating that China has no intention to terminate the building of new facilities off its southern coast. Zhenmin then replied to the American accusations, denying that Beijing is proceeding to a progressive militarization of the area. From Chinese prospective, Washington should instead halt its provocations after that, last month, an American navy ship crossed a maritime area that Beijing regards as part of its territorial waters.
“Building and maintaining necessary military facilities, this is what is required for China’s national defence and for the protection of those islands and reefs,” Deputy Foreign Minister said, adding that Beijing intends to “expand and upgrade” civil infrastructure ” to better serve commercial ships, fishermen, to help distressed vessels and provide more public services.”
The two main contenders positions are, therefore, very far and nothing portends, at this time, a change of course by the Chinese battleship.