China – A senior Chinese general said on Saturday that in the midst of strains over China’s building of islands in the West Philippine sea or South China Sea, Beijing will never “recklessly” resort to the use of military force in the disputed region.

China’s increasingly assertive stand on territorial claims in the South China Sea have been strained its relations with a few Southeast Asian nations, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam who have competing claims in an area through which $5 trillion (3 trillion pounds) in ship-borne trade passes annually.

Beijing’s reclamation in the West Philippine sea last year step up the creation of artificial islands, which it says are mostly for civilian purposes, has drawn strong criticism from Washington.

Fan Changlong

A Reuters report said that Fan Changlong, one of the vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission which controls the Chinese armed forces and is headed by President Xi Jinping, told a high-level security forum that China had sought to avoid conflict.

Fan said at the Southeast Asian forum which was attended by Asian defense ministers that “We will never recklessly resort to the use of force, even on issues of sovereignty, and have done our utmost to avoid unexpected conflicts.”

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Fan emphasized that China’s islands “will not affect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” and said recently completed lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef in the Spratly archipelago “have already begun to provide navigation services to all nations”.

“We will continue to resolve disputes and differences with directly related parties through friendly consultation and are committed to working with relevant parties to maintain regional security and stability,” Fan said.

According to an official from the United States, international law prohibits claiming territory around artificial islands built on previously submerged reefs and that the U.S. military would sail or fly wherever international law allowed.

China, nonetheless, denies it has militarized the South China Sea and has cautioned that it would stand for violations of its territorial waters in the name of freedom of navigation.

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Chinese artificial island

Some analysts in Washington believe the United States has already decided to conduct freedom-of-navigation operations inside the 12-nautical-mile limits that China claims around islands built on reefs in the Spratly islands.

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Adm. Gary Roughead

Admiral Gary Roughead, previous U.S. head of maritime operations, told the discussion the building’s size of ports and landing strips in the seas by China raised true blue concerns.

“I do not see an influx of tourists clamoring to visit these remote outposts,” he said.

Images used credit to associated press, youtube.com, navytimes.com

By: Edit Robert Beerlak / Reuters

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