BEIJING — China is building a “Great Wall of sand” through an unparalleled program of land reclamation in the South China Sea, raising concerns about the possibility of military confrontation in the disputed waters, according to the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
In one of the strongest and highest-level criticisms of the reclamation project to date, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. told a naval conference in Australia late Tuesday that competing territorial claims by several nations in the South China Sea continue to stoke “regional tensions and the potential for miscalculation.”
“But what’s really drawing a lot of concern in the here and now is the unprecedented land reclamation currently being conducted by China,” he added.
Satellite images show rapid construction on various coral reefs and rocks controlled by China within the disputed Spratly Islands, including harbors, piers, helipads, buildings and potentially at least one airstrip, experts say. Last month, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki expressed concerns that the program was an attempt to “militarize outposts on disputed land features.”
Harris said that China has created 1.5 square miles of artificial landmass in recent months.