Military build-up in Spratlys depends on threat level: China

BEIJING • The amount of military facilities that China builds on islands in the South China Sea depends on the level of threat it faces, although China does not seek militarisation, the country's navy chief has told his US counterpart.

The news came as Philippine protesters plan a second trip to disputed islands in the sea, this time to stay a month, a spokesman said yesterday, after China flew a planeload of tourists to an artificial island it has built in the area.

Beijing has landed three flights on Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly archipelago this month, angering Vietnam and the Philippines and drawing criticism from the US, which expressed deep concern that it will exacerbate tension in the region.

Speaking on a teleconference call with US Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson, Chinese naval commander Wu Shengli said on Wednesday that the landings were made to determine whether the airport met civilian airline standards.

This will help China fulfil its international obligations and provide a service to the rest of the world, Admiral Wu said, although China has yet to give any indication that foreign airlines might be allowed to use the airport.

"Our necessary defensive step of building on islands and reefs in the Nansha islands is not militarisation, but this has been maliciously hyped up by certain countries and media," Admiral Wu said, using the Chinese name for the Spratlys.

Whether or not the islands are militarised depends on the purpose of the construction and how facilities are used once they are completed, he said.

"We will certainly not seek the militarisation of the islands and reefs, but we won't not set up defences. How many defences completely depends on the level of threat we face," Admiral Wu said.

China's navy has the ability and the determination to protect the Spratly islands, he added.

The Philippine protesters criticised their government for doing nothing to stop Chinese fishermen from harvesting giant clams and collecting fish with dynamite and cyanide fishing in the disputed waters.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'Military build-up in Spratlys depends on threat level: China'. Print Edition | Subscribe