Power Projection, Reclamation in the South China Sea

The Pentagon released a new “Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy” on Aug. 20, which provides new detail into China’s recent reclamation activities in the South China Sea. Since December 2013, according to the report, China has reclaimed land at seven of its eight outposts in the Spratly Islands, including more than 2,900 acres of land reclaimed since June (compared to 80 acres reclaimed by Vietnam, the next most active claimant). At all of these sites, China has either “transitioned from land reclamation operations to infrastructure development,” or has staged construction to support future development. The creation of ship berths and airstrips indicate China intends to continue enhancing these features, which it has said will have a “military component,” to enable a “more robust power projection presence” in the South China Sea, the report states. Despite China’s recent claims it has ceased the activity, “it’s not clear if they have stopped or they are just finishing up,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear told Pentagon reporters Aug. 21. Shear said the US continues to “engage” the Chinese on the subject and US forces will continue “a variety of operations, including exercises” in and around the disputed areas.