In another latest warning to the world, a US military think tank - Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) - claims China appears to have largely completed major construction of military infrastructure on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea and can now deploy combat planes and other military hardware there at any time. Now, China appears to have several military bases on their islands and shows no sign of pulling back from its expansion in the area.
The strategic bases on three man-made islands will give the country the ability to deploy combat aircraft and other military assets with terrifying efficiency.
In a daily press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that while she is unaware of the AMTI report, Beijing has "a right to self-preservation and self-defense to which a sovereign state is entitled under worldwide law".
"Whether we decide to deploy or not deploy relevant military equipment, it is within our scope of sovereignty".
AMTI also said the work on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly Islands included naval, air, radar and defensive facilities. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have disputes with China over the area.
The first draft of the framework has already been completed, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said earlier this month.
"Construction teams were putting the finishing touches on five larger hangars".
AMTI said China's three air bases in the Spratlys and another on Woody Island in the Paracel chain further north would allow its military aircraft to operate over almost the entire South China Sea, a key global trade route that Beijing claims most of. The Chinese had also sent three commercial airliners to test the runway on Fiery Cross Reef, of which the construction was completed in 2015. The tribunal also criticized China for destroying coral reefs, which it had a duty to protect-international law says that anyone building an island must undertake a thorough environmental assessment beforehand.
Last summer, an global tribunal ruled that China violated the Philippines' territorial integrity by building artificial islands in its waters. However, China refused to recognize the tribunal's ruling.
In his Senate confirmation hearing in January, new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson angered China by saying it should be denied access to islands it had built up in the South China Sea.
The report, released this week, appears to be the most conclusive indication yet that China is using its island-building project to give teeth to its claim over nearly the entire South China Sea and its islands and reefs.
China has refused to confirm speculation over whether it plans to declare an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea as it has done already over worldwide airspace in the East China Sea.
In a recent press conference, Sean Spicer, the White House's spokesperson, said: "It's a question of if those islands are in fact in global waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we're going to make sure that we defend worldwide territories from being taken over by one country". "The interesting question is really how the Southeast Asian states will respond". Duterte said during Wednesday's speech.
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