CANBERRA, Australia, April 1 (UPI) -- A top U.S. Navy commander said China's construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea is unprecedented and Asia's largest economy is creating a "great wall of sand" that is drawing the ire of neighboring countries.
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry Harris said Tuesday that China's creation of artificial land through the pumping of sand onto live coral reefs has created 1.5 square miles of artificial landmass.
"China's pattern of provocative actions toward smaller claimant states...is inconsistent with international law," Harris said in a speech at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The BBC reported China has claims over waters in the South China Sea that conflict with Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.
All countries are locked in a dispute over the Spratly Islands.
Tensions have escalated in recent years over territory in the South China Sea. The Philippines has filed a complaint with the U.N.'s Permanent Court of Arbitration. China, however, has refused to respond to the complaint.
China has justified its activities near the Spratly Islands by insisting land reclamation is for the "purpose of improving the working and living conditions of people stationed on these islands."
Harris said the United States and other countries urge all those involved in the territorial dispute to follow the 2002 China-ASEAN "Declaration of Conduct," and that all parties conform to the exercise of self-restraint that can prevent the escalation of tensions.
But China's increasing activities in the South China Sea have provoked the anger of nearby nations.
The BBC reported anti-China violence erupted in Vietnam after China relocated a drilling rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands.