This is an version of disputes that include islands off Japan, Vietnam and elsewhere that China wants for its own. China has sent ships to the Senkaku Islands to dispute Japan’s possession of the islands and placed oil rigs and an airstrip last year on Viet-Nam’s Paracel Islands to assert Beijing’s ownership. China later removed the rigs but the airstrip and some buildings remain.
The new sand bars are being created on the Spratly Islands, an archipelago near The Philippines claimed not only by China, but Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. All the islands China desires lie on important sea routes as well as fishing grounds with possible oil and gas reserves beneath.
Everyone except China appears willing to go to international arbitration. China, a fan of international law in other areas, seems interested in these cases only in projecting power and bases its claims on things like Ming dynasty maps and Han Dynasty discoveries. The US, defender by treaty of Japan and the Philippines, objects. Viet-Nam has on its own clashed with China and the oil rig gambit set off riots against Chinese businesses in two Vietnamese provinces.
Last Sunday, Chinese fighter jets flew an exercise past Taiwan into the Western Pacific, the first time it had held an air maneuver so far from the mainland shore. On Tuesday, US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris made news by telling an audience in Australia that China’s gambit in the Spratly Islands amounted to construction of a “Great Wall of sand.”
He was slightly off: China’s new Great Wall, with jets, ships and subs, will be mobile and apparently acquisitive.
Here’s an article on the Senkaku dispute with Japan.