General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopped short of calling for military action against China, but warned international laws should be enforced. He claimed Chinese leader Xi had promised previous US President Barack Obama he would not militarise the islands across the huge stretch of sea, whose territorial claims have been subject of much feuding between several countries over recent months. General Dunford said in a talk on US security and defence at the Brookings Institution in Washington: “The fall of 2016, President Xi Jinping promised President Obama that they would not militarise the islands.
“What we see today are 10,000-foot runways, ammunition storage facilities, routine deployment of missile defence capabilities, aviation capabilities, and so forth.
“So clearly they have walked away from that commitment.
Referring to the series of reefs and outcrops that have been claimed s territory by China, reclaimed and expanded to accommodate military forces and large aircraft, he added: “The South China Sea is, in my judgement, not a pile of rocks.
“What is at stake in the South China Sea and elsewhere where there are territorial claims is the rule of law, international laws, norms and standards.”
“When we ignore actions that are not in compliance with international rules, norms and standards, we have just set a new standard.”
But General Dunford made clear he is not calling for immediate military action against China.
He instead wants “collective action” to be taken against China, and wants Beijing to be held accountable as a way of stopping any future violations.
The top US general continued: “I’m not suggesting a military response.
“What needs to happen is coherent collective action to those who violate international norms and standards.
“They need to be held accountable in some way so that future violations are deterred.”
The US has been left frustrated after not being able to stop China’s military colonisation of the South China Sea, which also rejects conflicting territorial claims from five other countries.
These are Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Philippines.
Washington has deployed navy ships through several areas China has claimed as “international freedom of navigation operations.
But the two feuding countries remain miles apart, also not helped by a bitter escalating trade war that has sent shivers through the global economy.
General Dunford acknowledged that building on the Chinese-claimed reefs had slowed.
But he said: “I assume that’s because the islands have now been developed to the point where they provide the military capability that the Chinese required them to have.”