Beijing vows 'never to stop' construction in South China Sea, says it’s lawful

Сrew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. File photo. © AFP
Beijing has pledged to “never stop” construction in the South China Sea, insisting its activities are “justified and lawful.” A tribunal at The Hague has rejected China's claims to “historic rights” in the disputed sea in a case brought by the Philippines.

“We will never stop our construction on the Nansha Islands [China‘s name for the Spratly Islands] halfway,” Wu Shengli, the commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, told US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson on Monday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

He stressed that the Spratly Islands are “China's inherent territory, and our necessary construction on the islands is reasonable, justified and lawful.”

Wu warned that "no matter what country or person applies pressure," China will complete construction on the islands as planned, noting that “any attempt to force China to give in through flexing military muscles will only have the opposite effect."

Beijing made waves earlier this week by announcing it is closing off part of the South China Sea for military exercises from Monday to Thursday, and warning that freedom of navigation patrols by foreign navies could end “in disaster.” The announcement came during Richardson's three-day visit to China to discuss the South China Sea dispute.

“When has freedom of navigation in the South China Sea ever been affected? It has not, whether in the past or now, and in the future there won’t be a problem as long as nobody plays tricks,” Sun Jianguo, an admiral and deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission, said behind closed doors on Saturday, Reuters reported.

"But China consistently opposes so-called military freedom of navigation, which brings with it a military threat and which challenges and disrespects the international law of the sea. This kind of military freedom of navigation is damaging to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and it could even play out in a disastrous way," he added.

The dispute over the South China Sea involves the Spratly and the Paracel Islands. Beijing’s territorial claims to the islands partly overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, while China also has ongoing territorial disputes in the area with Malaysia and Brunei. To bolster its claims, China has been busy setting up defense installations in the area, calling Washington’s involvement in the dispute the “greatest” threat to the region. The US is opposed to the Chinese initiative, and has deployed additional warships in the disputed zone. Conducting maneuvers near China’s artificial islands, Washington has repeatedly said its moves are exclusively in the interests of “freedom of navigation.

The international arbitration court in The Hague said in its 497-page ruling last week that “There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line,’” referring to a demarcation line on a map of the sea from 1947. Beijing has ignored the verdict, saying its islands come with exclusive economic zones, where Chinese people have had activities for 2,000 years.

The tribunal also found that China caused irreparable harm to the ecosystem of the Spratly Islands and breached the Philippines' sovereign rights.

Victor Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies, told RT that he believes the US was “very much involved in this arbitration case brought by the Philippines...trying to put pressure on China.”

“China will stand firm on the matter of principle and China will also use all military resources to make sure that the US will not win this battle against China,” he said.