Use China's artificial islands for 'public service' – experts

SINGAPORE – China can use its artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea for “public service” in the Asia-Pacific, experts said Monday, July 18.

Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, said China "can take the initiative because China is a big country."

During an ongoing conference in Singapore on the South China Sea, experts like Zheng suggested using China’s artificial islands for the following purposes:

Experts said China has been building artificial islands to assert de facto control over the South China Sea. In June 2015, data from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative showed that China’s artificial islands add up to around a third of the city of Manila.

Zheng said, "I think that China should open these facilities not only for ASEAN countries but also for other powers, because freedom of navigation is in the interest of all parties here."

Zheng made this comment on the sidelines of the "Think Tank Seminar on the South China Sea and Regional Cooperation and Development" in Singapore, a gathering sponsored by the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

'We are a community'

Zheng's statement comes as China pushes for regional cooperation in the South China Sea, especially after Manila won a historic case against Beijing. (READ: Philippines, China urged to help each other in disasters)

The Philippines’ recent legal victory invalidated China’s expansive claim over the South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea. 

Senior Colonel Zhang Junshe, also a senior research fellow at the Military and Academic Institute of the Chinese Navy, agreed with Zheng.

On China’s artificial islands, Zhang said: "I think the main purpose is to provide more public service to the international world, to the international society, but of course there is limited defense use. We have to improve the living and working conditions for the people on these islands."

Zhang cited the need to cooperate because the Asia-Pacific region is home to many natural disasters, "and also sometimes there is piracy in this area."

One example, he said, is when a Chinese ship joined the search for Malaysia Airlines MH370 in the South China Sea. 

Zhang explained: "We know that the South China Sea, actually, is a semi-enclosed sea. Actually, all the countries around the South China Sea, we are a community. We should help each other." – Rappler.com