Did Beijing concede to US by calling off S China Sea land reclamation?
- 15:50 (GMT+8)
China's foreign ministry suddenly announced this week that it is suspending land reclamation efforts on islands and reefs in the disputed South China Sea.
The official media line on the suspension is that it is because the projects are "complete," however other media outlets have framed the decision as a compromise reached between Beijing and Washington, according to Duowei News, a media outlet run by overseas Chinese.
China and the United States have insisted on their respective positions in the disputes over the South China Sea, from the Chinese military asking US jets conducting patrol duties in the area to leave, to China's issuing of a defense white paper to show its concerns over its maritime interests and the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogue, where representatives from the two countries defended their respective positions.
President Xi Jinping of China plans to visit the US in September and China and the US are set to engage in more economic cooperation. This has fueled rumors about Beijing's compromise on the dispute.
China is unlikely to have suspended its land reclamation efforts in the region simply because of protests from other countries, so one possibility is that the country has achieved its projected goal and the timing is a handy way to suggest Beijing is making a major concession.
Another possibility is that the US and China have reached an agreement. The foreign ministry's announcement on June 16 just days after General Fan Changlong, vice chair of China's Central Military Commission, ended his US visit on June 12, suggesting this possibility.
Another possibility is that the move was a good will gesture on China's behalf. The US has repeatedly complained of China's land reclamation activities and the angry responses from Beijing contributed to a souring of bilateral relations, which is not in China's national interests.
Generally speaking, the maritime disputes in the South China Sea involve six parties, namely China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. Of these, Brunei has abandoned its territorial claim over Louisa Reef in the Spratlys, Malaysia has a relatively minor claim in the Spratlys, Vietnam and the Philippines make claims to major island chains while China and Taiwan maintain a similar claim to virtually the entirety of the South China Sea. The US has become involved to appeal to China on behalf of its ally, the Philippines, and to maintain its influence in the region.