The Pentagon announced on Friday that they expect China to build significant military infrastructure on the disputed Spratly Islands.
The islands in the South China Sea are claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam.
The Spratly Islands were formerly barely above water for the majority of the year. That changed in 2015 when China undertook a massive land reclamation program which added 3,200 acres of land to the islands.
The reason why all of these regional powers are seeking to claim the Spratly Islands is because the area around the islands is believed to be rich in oil.
In its annual report to Congress on Chinese military activities, the Pentagon said that since the end of the land reclamation program, China has shifted its efforts to building military infrastructure. These building efforts include the construction of three 9,800 foot long airstrips which could accommodate fighter jets.
“Additional substantial infrastructure, including communications and surveillance systems, is expected to be built on these features in the coming year,” the report said. “China will be able to use its reclaimed features as persistent civil-military bases to enhance its presence in the South China Sea significantly.”
The report went on to say that China sought to avoid direct confrontation with the United States, but that it was willing to push even those boundaries.
“China demonstrated a willingness to tolerate higher levels of tension in the pursuit of its interests, especially in pursuit of its territorial claims,” the report said.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Yang Yujun blasted the Pentagon report in an article published by Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua.
“China follows a national defense policy that is defensive in nature. Moves such as deepening military reforms and the military buildup are aimed at maintaining sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, and guaranteeing China’s peaceful development,” Yang said, adding that the U.S. side has always been suspicious.
Yang went on to say that the Pentagon report had “damaged mutual trust” between the two nations.