TOKYO — In what may turn out to be the first step in a dangerous game of chicken, Japan’s upcoming annual defense white paper will accuse China of belligerency in its dealings with neighbors as it becomes clear that China is laying the foundations of a military base on Fiery Cross Reef, one of seven artificial islands China has created in the disputed Spratly Islands.
In the outline of the white paper, to be released in late July, on top of the usual statements citing North Korea’s nuclear and missile development as issues of concern, the paper will directly call China’s reclamation work on the Spratlys, “high handed.”
In the last 18 months, China has added about 800 hectares to seven reefs in the area, including an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, along with the makings of a military radar base. All of this is seen as a significant escalation in a dispute over the islands, part of a huge swath of territory in the South China Sea (SCS) over which China claims undisputed sovereignty.
While the Fiery Cross Reef development has been condemned by the US, Japan’s accusation raises the ante and more directly challenges perceived Chinese expansionism, supporting the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam in their dispute over China’s claims on the islands.