A new Pentagon reported released Friday said that China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres of land in the South China Sea and the country’s focus has shifted to developing and weaponinzing the man-made islands.
The Defense Department said three of the artificial lands in the Spratly Islands sport 10,000-foot runways and large ports in various stages of construction. China has also excavated deep channels, created and dredged harbors, and constructed communications, logistics and intelligence gathering facilities.
The report states that China will enhance its presence in the contested South China Sea with its airfields, ship facilities, surveillance and weapons equipment. And those things don’t give the country any new territorial rights.
"This would improve China's ability to detect and challenge activities by rival claimants or third parties, widen the range of capabilities available to China, and reduce the time required to deploy them," according to the report released Friday.
"China is using coercive tactics short of armed conflict, such as the use of law enforcement vessels to enforce maritime claims, to advance their interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict," the report adds.
The acre figure only represents the land China reclaimed in the Spratly chain and doesn’t include the building in the Paracels and Woody Island. The Pentagon said China has deployed anti-aircraft missiles to Woody Island.
The Pentagon declined to release details on the amount of increased reclamation in the Paracels or to provide a more concrete estimate of the increase in building in the Spratly Islands.
China has repeatedly defended its land reclamation projects, by saying it is Beijing’s territory, adding that the buildings and infrastructure are for public service use and to support fishermen. It accuses the Philippines, Vietnam and others of carrying out their own building work on other islands.
The report also notes that China has continued to assert sovereignty over the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan.
Vietnam, China and Taiwan all claim the Paracels, and the three along with the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim all or parts of the Spratlys. The U.S. says it takes no side in the territorial disputes, but supports freedom of passage through the area, which is one of the world's busiest sea lanes.
The report also repeats assertions by Defense Secretary Ash Carter that continued provocation by China may only improve U.S. relations in the Asia Pacific.
"China's increasingly assertive efforts to advance its national sovereignty and territorial claims, its forceful rhetoric, and lack of transparency about its growing military capabilities and strategic decision-making continue to raise tensions and have caused countries in the region to enhance their ties to the United States," the report said.
U.S. officials have been increasingly concerned China's activities could be a prelude to enforcing a possible air defense identification zone over the South China Sea, similar to one it declared over disputed Japanese-held islands in the East China Sea in 2013.
As noted in previous year's reports, China continues to target U.S. government and Defense Department computer systems through cyber intrusions. The report said that during 2015, China used it's cyber capabilities to spy on the U.S. and steal information from computer networks.
"The information targeted could potentially be used to benefit China's defense industry, high-technology industries, and provide the CCP insights into U.S. leadership perspectives on key China issues," the report said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.