Sat May 14, 2016 12:00AM
A man-made Chinese island in the South China Sea (file photo)
A man-made Chinese island in the South China Sea (file photo)

The US Department of Defense has warned China against employing “coercive tactics” in pursuing its maritime interests, accusing Beijing of reclaiming and weaponizing lands in the South China Sea.

In its most recent and detailed assessment of China’s island-building program in the disputed waters, the Pentagon said Friday that China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres of land in the southeastern South China Sea.

The report added that three of the land features in the Spratly Islands now have each a nearly 3-kilometer runway and large ports under construction, as part of China’s plan to create man-made islands on the archipelago.

“This would improve China’s ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties, widen the range of capabilities available to China, and reduce the time required to deploy them,” read the report.

“China is using coercive tactics short of armed conflict, such as the use of law enforcement vessels to enforce maritime claims, to advance their interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict,” it added.

The Pentagon further accused China of reclamation of land in the Paracel Islands, including the Woody Island where China has deployed anti-aircraft missiles.

China claims sovereignty over most of the sea, which serves as a crossing for more than $5 trillion in maritime trade. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also lay claim to some parts of the sea.

The Pentagon concluded the report by warning that China’s land building was designed to walk right up to – but not cross – “the threshold of provoking the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Asia-Pacific region into open conflict”.

Aside from challenging China's sovereignty claims politically, the US has on numerous occasions sent warships near Chinese artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The latest instance of such measures occurred on Tuesday, when the USS William P. Lawrence navigated to within 12 nautical miles of a land feature in the sea known as Fiery Cross Reef.

In response, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Washington needs to put an end to its military patrols near the Spratly Islands.

“As the US seeks cooperation with China, it ought to respect China’s core interests and important matters of concern,” the top Chinese diplomat said.