U.S. sees China boosting military
presence after island-building spree
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[May 14, 2016]
By Phil Stewart and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China is expected
to add substantial military infrastructure, including surveillance
systems, to artificial islands in the South China Sea this year, giving
it long-term "civil-military bases" in the contested waters, the
Pentagon said on Friday.
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery
Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in
this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance
aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. U.S.
Navy/Handout via Reuters
In its annual report to Congress on China's military activities in
2015, the U.S. Defense Department estimated that China's reclamation
work had added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) of land on
seven features it occupied in the Spratly Islands in the space of
It said China had completed its major reclamation efforts in
October, switching focus to infrastructure development, including
three 9,800 foot-long (3,000 meter) airstrips that can accommodate
advanced fighter jets.
"Additional substantial infrastructure, including communications and
surveillance systems, is expected to be built on these features in
the coming year," the report said.
"China will be able to use its reclaimed features as persistent
civil-military bases to enhance its presence in the South China Sea
The report comes at a time of heightened tension over maritime
territories claimed by China and disputed by several Asian nations.
Washington has accused Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea
while Beijing, in turn, has criticized increased U.S. naval patrols
and exercises in Asia.
The Pentagon report said China was focusing on developing
capabilities to counter outside intervention in any conflict, but
appeared to want to avoid direct confrontation with the United
States in Asia, given the potential economic damage.
At the same time, "China demonstrated a willingness to tolerate
higher levels of tension in the pursuit of its interests, especially
in pursuit of its territorial claims," the report said.
MILITARY CHIEFS TALK
The Pentagon disclosed on Friday that the U.S. military's top
officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, had proposed an effort to
"bolster risk reduction mechanisms" to his counterpart, the Chinese
Chief of the Joint Staff Department, General Fang Fenghui.
Dunford's spokesman, Captain Greg Hicks, said in a statement that
both sides agreed the talks, which took place by video conference on
Thursday, were a valuable way to "manage both cooperative and
contentious issues, and avoid miscalculation."
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The Pentagon's report cautioned that China was committed to
sustaining growth in defense spending even as its economic growth
cools and to pursuing objectives increasingly distant from China's
Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East
Asia, told a briefing that China's 2015 defense spending was higher
than it publicly disclosed and had reached $180 billion, compared
with an official Chinese of $144 billion.
The report pointed to China's November announcement that it was
establishing a military facility in Djibouti. It said China was also
expected to establish naval logistics hubs in countries with which
it shares interests, including Pakistan.
The U.S report renewed accusations against China's government and
military for cyber attacks against U.S. government computer systems,
a charge Beijing denies. It said attacks in 2015 appeared focused on
"Targeted information could inform Chinese military planners' work
to build a picture of U.S. defense networks, logistics, and related
military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis," the
It also cautioned that the actions and skills needed for the
intrusions carried out to date "are similar to those necessary to
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and David Brunnstrom; editing by Stuart
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