China Advances South China Sea Nuclear, Atoll Plans as Diplomatic Door Closes

China Advances South China Sea Nuclear, Atoll Plans as Diplomatic Door Closes
Photo Credit:Goran tek-en CC BY SA 3.0

Fresh details on China’s South China Sea projects have emerged just as the chances for international agreement on the disputed waters appear to have narrowed.

Chinese state media has reported the country is moving closer to building its first offshore nuclear power platform, which could be used to power its controversial projects in the South China Sea.

China’s Global Times quotes Liu Zhengguo, director of the company in charge of designing and assembling the platforms, saying the firm is “pushing forward the work” and that the development of nuclear power platforms is becoming a “burgeoning trend.”

The paper also refers to an earlier report from the China Securities Journal that put the completion of the first demonstration project in 2018 with 20 further similar platforms slated for the future.

South China Morning Post reports China is set to start a new land reclamation project at the Scarborough Shoal. The paper quotes a source close to the PLA Navy as saying China will build a new base 230 kilometers off the coast of the Philippines. The work, which may include construction of an airstrip, is expected to start later this year.

Diplomatic door closes

As China boosts its physical presence in the South China Sea, Beijing appears to have successfully closed the door to ASEAN playing a major role in settling disputes in the region.

On April 23, China Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced the country had reached a new consensus with Brunei, Cambodia and Laos on the issue.

State-owned Xinhua reported that Wang, at a press conference in Vientiane, said the four countries had “agreed that the territorial disputes over some islands, rocks and shoals in the South China Sea are not an issue between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).”

The countries also agreed South China Sea disputes should be resolved through “consultations and negotiations by parties directly concerned,” according to Xinhua.

As the Sydney Morning Herald notes, the agreement follows years of efforts by ASEAN to negotiate a code of conduct to avoid clashes over the many competing claims in the region. The paper reports that China, via the new four-country consensus, has “forced a formal split” over how the ASEAN members respond to China’s claims.

The deal may also be a blow for the wider group of countries that have been working towards a multilateral approach to South China Sea disputes.

As Asia Pacific expert Ernest Bower wrote earlier this month, the US, Japan and Australia have been working together in both alliance-based cooperation and to build “ASEAN-centric security architecture.”

“The goal is to convince China that its national security interests will be best promoted by participating in regional rule making, abiding by international rules and using its substantial new economic and military power to promote regional security,” said Bower in an article for the Asia & Pacific Policy Society.

Global Times
South China Morning Post
Sydney Morning Herald
Asia & Pacific Policy Society