by Frances Martel, Breitbart:
U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John C. Aquilino told the Associated Press in an interview published on Sunday that China had fully militarized three artificial islands built in the territory of the Philippines as part of “the largest military buildup since World War II.”
The three artificial islands were built on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef, territories belonging to the Spratly Islands, an archipelago legally under the territory of the Philippines.
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China’s presence on the islands is illegal regardless of the nature of its construction there. China claims nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, including territory belonging to the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei, as well as waters off the coast of Indonesia. In 2016, the Philippines won a lawsuit against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in which the court ruled that China had no legal right to be present in the disputed territories, including the three reefs Aquilino discussed this weekend.
Chinese officials called the ruling a “farce” and ignored it; the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly refused to seek enforcement of the ruling.
The Chinese government seized the three reefs – as well as several others in another chain, the Paracel Islands, disputed by the Philippines and Vietnam – and built artificial islands that Beijing claims are necessary for weather research and surveillance. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping asserted in 2015 that China would not “pursue militarization” in the Spratly Islands.
Extensive evidence since the completion of the artificial islands, including statements from the Chinese government, has suggested that Xi did not adhere to his promise.
According to the Associated Press, Aquilino described the three artificial islands as equipped with completed “missile arsenals, aircraft hangars, radar systems and other military facilities.”
“The function of those islands is to expand the offensive capability of the PRC [China] beyond their continental shores,” the outlet quoted the admiral as saying. “They can fly fighters, bombers plus all those offensive capabilities of missile systems.”
The facilities, he warned, “threaten all nations who operate in the vicinity and all the international sea and airspace.”
“I think over the past 20 years we’ve witnessed the largest military buildup since World War II by the PRC,” Aquilino said, noting that China appeared to have “advanced all their capabilities and that buildup of weaponization is destabilizing to the region.”
Multiple American presidential administrations have warned since at least 2015 that the Chinese Communist Party was seeking to build illegal military facilities in the South China Sea. The Chinese government has enthusiastically denied any plans to militarize the region for years. Xi Jinping himself denied such a plan in 2015 while visiting the White House.