Navy warns of China's 'great wall of sand'
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A top U.S. Navy official on Tuesday said China is trying to seize disputed waters in the South China Sea through land reclamation projects, stoking the potential for future conflicts.

U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry Harris said Beijing was building a “great wall of sand” in contested waters near its shores, Fox News reported.

“China is building artificial land by pumping sand onto live coral reefs — some of them submerged — and paving over them with concrete,” Harris said.

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“China has now created over 4 square kilometers [1.5 square miles] of artificial landmass,” he added.

Harris said China has long claimed sway over the entire South China Sea, putting it at odds with other Asian countries with competing territorial claims in those waters. He cited the continuing dispute over ownership of the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

The land reclamation projects are in areas also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, among others.

“How China proceeds will be a key indicator of whether the region is heading toward confrontation or cooperation,” Harris added.

Harris said the U.S. hopes all parties involved would adhere to the 2002 China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Declaration of Conduct. 

That agreement said all signatories would “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability” in the Pacific region.

Harris said the U.S. is expanding its naval presence in the Far East as a precaution. The admiral said the Pacific Fleet would account for 60 percent of U.S. Navy forces by 2020.

“By maintaining a capable and credible forward presence in the region, we’re able to improve our ability to maintain stability and security,” he said. “If any crisis does break out, we’re better positioned to quickly respond.”

China claims sovereignty over the South China Sea, citing its historical role in the region. This has angered U.S. allies in the area with their own interests there.

President Obama has sought a U.S. "pivot" toward Asia, seeing ties with the region as crucial to 21st Century and to counter Beijing's influence.

The president said China must “adhere to the same rules as other nations” during an address in Brisbane, Australia, in November.

The Philippines filed a complaint over the Spratly Islands with the U.N. Court of Arbitration, but China has refused to take the case. 

Vietnam, meanwhile, has dealt with anti-China violence within its borders over Beijing’s oil drilling in the Paracel Islands.