October 27, 2015


[Asked on Tuesday whether Subi Reef was entitled to a 12-mile territorial limit now that it had been built into an island, Mr. Lu replied, “China has indisputable sovereignty of the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters,” using China’s name for the Spratlys. He said that China was building in the South China Sea for the “public good.”]


@ The New York Times
BEIJING China on Tuesday accused the United States of committing a “deliberate provocation” by sending a Navy destroyer into waters claimed by Beijing, adding that such actions would force China to speed up its building program in the South China Sea.

China will firmly react to this deliberate provocation,” Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a regularly scheduled news conference. He added, “China will not condone any action that undermines China’s security.”

The statements came hours after the Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, one of several artificial islands that China has built in the disputed Spratly Islands chain. The United States had signaled for weeks that it would undertake the mission, which it called an exercise of the right to freedom of navigation in international waters.

China’s statements on Tuesday amounted to a relatively mild response, repeating much of its standard language about its rights in the South China Sea. Mr. Lu refused to say whether the United States ambassador to China, Max Baucus, had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry over the matter or whether China had issued any kind of démarche. A United States Embassy spokesman declined to comment.

In an earlier statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website, Mr. Lu called the move an illegal incursion, adding, “The relevant Chinese authorities have monitored, followed the U.S. warship and issued warnings.”
Mr. Lu declined to say at the news conference whether the Lassen had been followed by a Chinese warship or some other kind of vessel, such as a Coast Guard ship. Earlier, the Pentagon had said that the Lassen, accompanied by surveillance aircraft, had completed its mission without incident.
Reports on Chinese social media said that the Kunming, a 7,000-ton Chinese destroyer equipped with cruise missiles, had tailed the American ship. There was no official confirmation of the involvement of the Kunming, one of the newest vessels in the Chinese Navy’s South China Seafleet.
A Pentagon official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution, said that the plan had been to stay on a defined path, not to loiter and not to be provocative. He said the Lassen, which is part of the Navy’s Seventh Fleet, was headed back to its base at Yokosuka, in Japan.
Pressed on whether China would undertake a military response, Mr. Lu said that reporters should contact “relevant departments,” an apparent reference to the Defense Ministry.
Subi Reef is one of several artificial islands that the Chinese have built in the Spratly archipelago, which is closer to the Philippines, an American ally, than to China. Satellite images show that China has built the reef into an island, using massive dredging, and that it has started constructing a runway capable of accommodating military aircraft. It has completed another such runway in the Spratlys, on Fiery Cross Reef, and is working on a third.
The artificial islands built by China, and the broader issue of its claims over islands and small reefs in nearly 90 percent of the strategically important South China Sea, are among the most contentious issues between Washington and Beijing. The naval maneuver came a month after China’s president, Xi Jinping, and President Obama met in Washington and failed to reach an agreement on China’s claims, many of which are disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam and other governments.
Mr. Xi said at a news conference during his Washington visit that China had no intention of militarizing islands in the South China Sea, but he did not expand on that pledge during his private talks with President Obama, administration officials said. Officials had said before the Lassen’s mission that one purpose of such a patrol would be to test Mr. Xi’s words.
The Pentagon apparently chose Subi Reef, which is known as a low-tide elevation, with great care, said Andrew S. Erickson, associate professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute, at the United States Naval War College in Rhode Island.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a low-tide elevation — meaning it is naturally submerged at high tide — is not entitled to a 12-nautical-mile territorial limit, Mr. Erickson said. Beyond a 500-meter safety zone, foreign ships and aircraft are free to operate at will without consultation or permission, he said.
Asked on Tuesday whether Subi Reef was entitled to a 12-mile territorial limit now that it had been built into an island, Mr. Lu replied, “China has indisputable sovereignty of the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters,” using China’s name for the Spratlys. He said that China was building in the South China Sea for the “public good.”
Referring to the United States, Mr. Lu said: “If the relevant party keeps stirring things up, it will be necessary for China to speed up its construction activities.”
Many Chinese social media users were critical of what they saw as a weak response to the American patrol. “If you can’t even safeguard sovereignty, what else you can do to win the trust of the people?” read one of about 100 comments, most of them critical of China’s response, under an article by Xinhua, the state-run news agency.
The Lassen’s patrol came a week before the head of United States Pacific Command, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., is scheduled to hold talks in Beijing with senior Chinese military officials. Admiral Harris, who has criticized China for moving “walls of sand” to create the artificial islands, has been an outspoken proponent of freedom-of-navigation patrols and has warned that the United States will conduct such forays whenever it sees fit.
Earlier this month, one of Admiral Harris’s predecessors, Adm. Dennis C. Blair, warned a conference of Chinese analysts that China’s “massive land-building projects” in the South China Sea and its claims of sovereignty were inviting a strong response from the United States Navy.
“This is simply unacceptable to the United States, and the United States will take strong military action, which will tend to move the issues from the civilian law enforcement to the military realm,” he said at a meeting of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, an influential research institute allied with China’s intelligence services.
“There is a general feeling outside of China that it has now settled on a sustained policy of aggressive actions to support its claims, especially in the South China Sea, and that China has abandoned any ideas of compromise and negotiated solutions to the disputes,” Admiral Blair said.

Michael Forsythe contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Yufan Huang contributed research from Beijing. 
@ The New York Times