Some U.S. congressmen have criticized China for what they say is a lack of sincerity in its pledge of non-militarization of the disputed reefs and islands in the South China Sea.
“President Xi [Jinping] continues to claim that China does not intend to pursue militarization in the South China Sea, but many experts would argue it has already done so, and that the artificial islands have both civilian and military application,” said Congressman Steve Chabot during a Wednesday hearing held by the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee of the House Foreign Relations Committee to discuss the strategic interests of the United States in Asia.
The chairman of the House subcommittee, Republican Congressman Matthew Salmon, also expressed concern.
“I think they are talking out of both sides of their mouth. They are saying that they have no ill intentions in dealing with the buildup on these islands, but action speaks louder than words," he said.
China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has stepped up a program of land reclamation and construction in the disputed islands and reefs, which has sparked concern in the United States and the Asia-Pacific region.
During his visit to the White House earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged not to militarize the artificial islands.
“Relevant construction activities that China is undertaking in the islands of South Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) do not target or impact any country, and China does not intend to pursue militarization,” Xi said.
Regional consensus urged
The Obama administration assured Congress it would work hard to stop militarization of the disputed Islands.
“The majority of the region is concerned about the actions taking place in the South China Sea. We are looking to ensure that there is a regional consensus to ensure that there is no further militarization of these outposts. That is our goal,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Fuchs during the hearing.
The United States has called for a halt to China's artificial island building, and recently has tried to show its determination by sending the military ship USS Lassen into the 12-nautical-mile-zone off some disputed reefs. U.S. military aircraft also have made routine flights in international air space in the disputed area.
"I think that's a proper course of action for the U.S. to remind all parties of the region that they cannot act with impunity. They can't intimidate their neighbors. And the U.S. is ready to counter that if it's necessary. I think the flyover is a modest but firm way of sending that message,” said Democratic Congressman Gery Connelly.
Republican Congressman Matthew Salmon also believes the U.S. should send a strong message to China.
“I think we need to constantly be vigilant, to keep speaking with one voice and say that is not tolerable to us," he said.
China has repeatedly said, in Xi’s word, it is “committed to respecting and upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight that countries enjoy according to international law.”