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hina Says It Will Cease Building NEW Artificial Islands

A statement released by China’s foreign ministry says that China will cease building additional islands, though it plans to complete existing land reclamation efforts.

Beijing appears to be heeding the warnings from Defense Secretary Ash Carter to cease land reclamation, although it intends to finish pre-existing work in the Spratly Islands first. When finished, China will switch from creating new land mass to building facilities on completed islands, CNN reports.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that the islands will host both military and civilian facilities. In the past, China has strenuously denied that the islands had anything to do with military installations. Instead, officials pointed to functions like maritime search and rescue and environmental conservation as the main impetus for the facilities, and emphasized that any military uses, if present at all, are secondary. Observers have noted construction of a 10,000-foot runway and radar system.

“This is a step toward halting land reclamation, which the U.S. has demanded, and at the same time, China can tell its people that it has accomplished what it wanted to do,” Huang Jing, an expert on Chinese foreign policy, told the Wall Street Journal.

The Foreign Ministry declined to give a timeline for when reclamation will end, though the statement included a vague reference to the effect that construction “will be completed in the upcoming days.”

But according to the State Department, China’s recent statement is rather hollow.

“China’s stated plans do not contribute to a reduction in tensions, support the emergence of diplomatic and peaceful solutions, or bolster China’s disputed maritime claims,” a spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald.

More negotiations between the U.S. and China will take place beginning next week at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Approximately $5 trillion in trade flows through the South China Sea annually, and the region is home to fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves. The stakes are high. Tension is unlikely to subside any time soon, especially since China hasn’t backed down from its claims stretching across almost all of the South China Sea.

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