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Response Not Likely To Disputed Chinese Land Grab (And Creation) In South China Sea

China is gaining ground in a land dispute with its neighbors – literally.

For decades, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines have fought over an archipelago known as the Spratly Islands.

"In 1988, Vietnam and China got into a skirmish over this, and in fact 60 Vietnamese sailors died,” said Rebecca Cruise, a panelist on KGOU’s World Views and the assistant dean of the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “In 2012 we saw a standoff between the Philippines and China. In 2013 the Philippines said that they were going to take China to the United Nations' tribunal to try to deal with this dispute.”

But over the past several weeks China has made rapid environmental transformations to a small reef within the island chain, according to satellite imagery studied by The New York Times:

The photographs show that since January, China has been dredging enormous amounts of sand from around the reef and using it to build up land mass — what military analysts at the Pentagon are calling “facts on the water” — hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland. The Chinese have clearly concluded that it is unlikely anyone will challenge them in an area believed rich in oil and gas and, perhaps more important, strategically vital. Last week Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the United States Pacific fleet, accused China of undertaking an enormous and unprecedented artificial land creation operation. “China is creating a great wall of sand with dredges and bulldozers,” Admiral Harris said in a speech in Canberra, Australia.

Cruise said China hasn’t really listened to international criticism as they expand their strategic reach in the region thought to be rich with oil and gas deposits.

“This seems very smart on their part, because who's going to stop them? They have the military capacity. They are a much larger country than both Vietnam and the Philippines,” Cruise said.” And the United States, though we have said that we are opposed to this, we are going to be doing some military exercises with our allies the Philippines, we're not going to go to war over this. We're not going to be able to physically stop them.”

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KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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