Australia and the United States called for China to halt its maritime construction in the South China Sea at the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogue, held in Singapore on 29-31 May.
Satellite image analysis by IHS Jane’s in November 2014 indicates China has begun extensive reclamation works on several features in the Spratly Islands.
International observers are particularly concerned over reclamation at Fiery Cross Reef, which is being converted into an island at least 3,000 m long. An IHS Jane’s report suggests this could be the site of China’s first airstrip in the South China Sea.
“China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres [810 ha], more than all other claimants combined, and more than in the entire history of the region,” said US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter during his speech at the meeting.
He added that further militarisation in the area could increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among the claimant states.
“There should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants,” said Carter. “We also oppose any further militarisation of disputed features.”
Australian Minister for Defence Kevin Andrews described ongoing reclamation works as “unilateral actions to change the status quo” in the disputed region.
“Disputes must be resolved peacefully, and Australia urges all parties to exercise restraint, halt all reclamation activities, refrain from provocative actions, and take steps to ease tensions,” he said.
Australia also declared it would be continuing maritime patrols in the South China Sea.
“Australia will continue to transit the South China Sea, including conducting maritime surveillance missions consistent with our rights under international law, as it has been doing for more than three decades now,” said the spokesperson.
China has signalled it has no immediate plans to establish around the disputed islands an air-defence identification zone (ADIZ), which would require overflying aircraft to identify themselves.