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Published on : Jun 23, 2015

The Philippines rolled out pictures of land reclamation and construction activities of China in the South China Sea in May 2014. This was a day after Beijing was accused of Manila in the South China Sea for violation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties to carry such construction.

The spokesperson at the Chinese Foreign Ministry was asked about the pictures and addressing a regular press conference she said, China has irrefutable sovereignty over Spratly Islands which includes Chigua Reef and the contiguous waters.  She also said, whatever construction is carried by China in the Chigua Reef will be completely under sovereignty of China.

The response of the spokesperson did not evolve much in the next ten months. This year in March 2015, Hua was still favoring construction carried out by China with terse decree. The normal construction activities from China on its own islands and waters are reasonable, lawful, and justifiable.

In the last four months, there has been major change in the way China perceives its construction activities in the South China Sea. Firstly, it is the clarification of the reasons for such construction, and secondly an announcement that land reclamation will soon come to a stop. 

As others have also pointed, change in China’s rhetoric does not match with the behavior- there are still plans to complete construction which was previously, for instance. However, the shift in tone is so important.

The shift in behavior signals the damage China has done to its soft power in the area for having the attitude, “our construction is not unlawful”, and is justifiable and reasonable. In new statements made by China, the country is actively trying to persuade worldwide authorities that there is no threat from its construction activities. 

This is a clear proof that Beijing is very much concerned about its image.