China has fundamentally altered the physical and political landscape in the strategic South China Sea through militarisation and large-scale land reclamation, a top American admiral alleged today. Chinese military modernization is focused on defeating the US in Asia by countering US asymmetric advantages, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of US Pacific Command told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing. “North Korea continues to disregard UN sanctions by developing and threatening to use intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons that will threaten the US Homeland. “China has fundamentally altered the physical and political landscape in the South China Sea through large-scale land reclamation and by militarising these reclaimed features,” Harris said.He said China continues to press Japan in the East China Sea, stepping up diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan, and methodically trying to supplant US influence with “our friends and allies in the region”.
“Furthermore, China is rapidly building a modern, capable military that appears to far exceed its stated defensive purpose or potential regional needs. China’s military modernisation is focused on defeating the US in Asia by countering US asymmetric advantages,” Harris alleged. China’s military modernisation cannot be understated, especially when one considers the Communist regime’s lack of transparency and apparent strategy, he said, adding that China is committed to developing a hypersonic glide weapon and advanced cyber and anti-satellite capabilities that present direct threats to the Homeland. “China’s near-term strategy is focused on building up combat power and positional advantage to be able to restrict freedom of navigation and overflight while asserting de facto sovereignty over disputed maritime features and spaces in the region,” the top American commander said.
Harris said the rapid transformation of China’s military into a high-tech force capable of regional dominance and a growing ability to support aspirations for global reach and influence is concerning. “China’s activities on the seas, in the air and in cyberspace have generated concerns about its strategic intentions,” he said. Referring to the Chinese construction activities in the disputed areas of the South China Sea, Harris said China’s military-specific construction in the Spratly islands includes the construction of 72 fighter aircraft hangars – which could support three fighter regiments – and about 10 larger hangars that could support larger airframes such as bombers or special mission aircraft. All of these hangars should be completed this year, Harris said.
“Despite its claims to the contrary, China has militarised the South China Sea through the building of seven military bases on artificial islands constructed through the large-scale damage of a fragile environment in disputed areas,” he said. The presence of these military capabilities undermines China’s consistent claim that these massively expanded features are for safety and humanitarian purposes, Harris said. Recently, China has tried to obscure the military purposes of its Spratly islands efforts by calling for private investment, residential settlement and tourism, he said. “The latter may prove especially problematic as China’s land creation effort over the past a few years has destroyed the once vibrant marine ecosystem surrounding the features,” Harris added.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including islands more than 800 miles from the Chinese mainland, despite objections from neighbours such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. The region is home to a wealth of natural resources, fisheries, trade routes, and military bases, all of which are at stake in the increasingly frequent diplomatic standoffs, experts say.