China expands claim on disputed islands by adding sand

An archipelago in the South China Sea is claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. But China has recently started dumping tons of sand in the long-contested area, building up an island large enough for a military aircraft landing strip. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to growing tensions in Asia over who controls contested areas in the South China Sea. China has recently tried to expand its claim by dumping tons of sand to build up small reefs into islands capable of holding military equipment.

  • MAN:

    China would rather use its bullying force against a small country like the Philippines.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Tough words in Manila today, and protests outside China's embassy, in what's become a big dispute over a small chain of islands in the South China Sea.

    They're called the Spratlys, about 1,000 miles south of China's Hainan province. The archipelago is claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. But in recent satellite images, it is China that appears to have built up one of the islands, known as the Fiery Cross Reef, constructing an airstrip there. The island is reportedly large enough for a 9,500-foot runway, which could accommodate military aircraft.

    Today in Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman defended the project.

  • HONG LEI, Spokesman, Foreign Ministry Spokesman, China (through interpreter):

    The relevant construction is conducted within China's sovereign territory. It is reasonable, understandable and legal, and it is not targeting or affecting any other country.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. has weighed in on the dispute. The commander of American forces in the Pacific spoke at a congressional hearing.

  • ADM. SAMUEL LOCKLEAR, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command:

    The implications are, if this activity continues at pace, is that it — it would give them de facto control, I think, in peacetime, of much of the world's most important waterways.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. has expressed concerns about China's land reclamation, which has gotten so tense at points that Chinese ships have blocked vessels from other countries.

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