SHANGHAI – China on Saturday defended its land reclamation and construction activities on disputed islets in the South China Sea as “fully within the scope” of its national sovereignty, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Beijing to “reduce tensions and increase the prospect of a diplomatic solution.”
At a news conference in the Chinese capital, Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, sought to emphasize points of agreement between the two nations on issues such as climate change as they lay the groundwork for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States in September.
But the South China Sea stood out as a point of friction. The U.S. and allies including the Philippines fear China is trying to establish de facto control over parts of the strategic waterway through landfill and construction projects that include an airstrip.
American military officials are drafting options to present to President Barack Obama, including sending warships within 12 miles of the reclaimed reefs and rocks to make clear that the United States considers them international waters.
Kerry did not respond to a question Saturday about whether the U.S. had decided to carry out such patrols. But Wang warned that “the determination of the Chinese side to safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock, and it is unshakable.”
Wang also called the United States “an important country in the Asia-Pacific region,” and said China welcomes “a positive and constructive role” for the U.S. in Asia-Pacific affairs.
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and Vietnam all claim control over various portions of the South China Sea; the dispute has simmered for decades. China is not alone in pursuing reclamation projects or building small military installations on contested islands.
But China’s recent dredging has been of a far greater scale than that of other countries, U.S. officials say. Washington believes China has created 2,000 acres of land since 2014 on five coral outcroppings in the Spratly archipelago.
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