The BBC took pictures of China building new islands on the Chigua Reef of the Nansha Islands recently. Given the construction materials and large-scale equipment, this UK media outlet claimed that China was turning the reef into "an airbase."
China's foreign ministry replied that the construction is aimed at improving the environment for people stationed there. China is in urgent need of "an airbase" in the Nansha Islands to cope with the complicated scenario. Western photographers may have to visit the Chigua Reef frequently to see what China's logic is.
The 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) stipulates that claimants to certain islands of the South China Sea should neither occupy new reefs nor build on occupied ones. For a long time, China has been an exemplary observer of the DOC, while Vietnam and the Philippines have constantly violated it when their citizens migrated there or they built permanent facilities, including runways. They have virtually pushed China into a corner.
Manila and its Western supporters have a rather ludicrous logic that the Philippines and Vietnam can do anything on the Nansha Islands and China can't take any countermeasures.
Perhaps, because of the large number of construction activities by Hanoi and Manila on reefs in disputed waters, the governments of the two countries have yet to decry China's building effort and Washington has not made a public declaration so far. But China should still prepare well for any possible emergency in the South China Sea.
Radical forces in the Philippines and some Westerners sharply scolded China for "building factories and what appears to be a runway for the takeoff and landing of military jets" and anchoring warships, which would have a severe impact upon the geopolitical landscape of the South China Sea. However, any notion of defying Beijing's sovereignty over the Nansha Islands or underestimating its resolve and ability to safeguard this sovereignty, is misplaced in its conception. China has exercised maximum restraint within the nine-dash line of the South China Sea. After all, we are constructing facilities on the reef under our maritime jurisdiction and we haven't driven Philippine and Vietnamese forces away from the reefs under their control.
What Manila and Hanoi need to understand is that it is impossible for China to remain indifferent in light of their far-reaching aggressive activities on the Nansha Islands. They will be better off not instigating nationalistic sentiments among their populations, which will not work against China, but will instead only embarrass themselves.
At present, there is no short-term solution to the disputes in the South China Sea, so the Philippines and Vietnam should avoid walking into a dead end they can't escape.