Beijing has pledged to continue its construction activities in the South China Sea despite an international court ruling against its claims to rights in the disputed waters.
“We will never stop our construction on the Nansha Islands halfway,” Wu Shengli, the commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy told US counterpart Admiral John Richardson, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Beijing has been turning reefs into artificial islands in the Nansha chain, known as Spratly, by China’s rivals.
Last week, The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that Beijing’s claims to islands in the South China Sea had no legal basis, siding with the Philippines that had filed the complaint.
The ruling said China’s construction on Mischief Reef had “violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights with respect to its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.”
China, which made clear from the start that it would not comply with any decisions by the court, slammed the verdict as an attempt to strip China of its historic sovereignty and maritime rights.
The top military official further described the islands as “China’s inherent territory,” saying Beijing’s “necessary construction on the islands is reasonable, justified and lawful.”
“Any attempt to force China to give in through flexing military muscles will only have the opposite effect,” he added.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, and is locked in disputes with its neighbors, namely Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, tiny Brunei and Taiwan.
Beijing says construction projects in the South China Sea are in accordance with international law as they do not affect the freedom of navigation and overflight by all countries.
It also argues that the activities do no cause damage to the marine ecological system in the disputed waters.
Manila rejects talks with Beijing
In another development, the Philippines rejected China’s call for bilateral talks on the South China Sea dispute after the arbitration court ruling.
Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said Tuesday the proposal was put forward by his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during their meeting on the sidelines of a summit of Asian and European leaders on the weekend.
Yasay said the Chinese side wanted the talks to be only on issues “outside, or (in) disregard of, the arbitral ruling,” adding that Manila turned down the offer as it was not in its national interests.
The Philippines, he said, wanted to enforce the points of the ruling by The Hague-based tribunal. “They said if you insist on the ruling, discussing it along those lines, then we might be headed for a confrontation.”
The Philippine minister further expressed hope that the court’s judgment will push other countries which have overlapping claims in the South China Sea to cooperate with Manila and issue a joint statement on the case.
The dispute has at times drawn in trans-regional countries, particularly the US.
Beijing accuses Washington of meddling in regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea.
The US, in turn, accuses China of carrying out what it calls a land reclamation program in the South China Sea by building artificial islands in the disputed areas.