Within the past week, China placed a battery of surface-to-air missiles
at the heart of the planet’s most contested waters — the South China Sea.
The HQ-9 air defence missiles now parked on Woody Island, a sliver of land claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and China, is the most recent provocative move from Beijing.
Meanwhile, China is continuing to construct bases throughout the South China Sea.
And through these constructions, Beijing is absolutely dominating the region.
China has undertaken ambitious dredging and expansion projects on Duncan Island, an island that is part of the Paracel Islands which are also claimed by Vietnam.
According to The Diplomat, the latest construction on Duncan Island include the expansion of a natural harbour, dredging sand to increase the size of the island by nearly 50%, and the construction of eight helicopter landing zones on the island.
An additional four zones are believed to be under construction.
These recently constructed helicopter landing zones coincide with a number of reports of China building airstrips on other reclaimed islands throughout the sea.
Altogether, these airstrips and helicopter landing zones will allow China to easily ferry supplies to the region, conduct aerial patrols thereby de facto taking control of the region, as well as conducting anti-submarine operations.
Essentially, all the construction will ensure that the South China Sea will realistically belong to China short of a major upheaval.
“If you look at all of these facilities — and you could imagine a network of missiles sites, runways for their fifth generation fighters and surveillance sites and all that — it creates a mechanism in which China would have de facto control over the South China Sea in any scenario short of war,” Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate in September 2015, USNI News reports.
And, even in the case of war, the establishment and construction of the bases will leave China with a permanent advantage in the region.
“From a military perspective it certainly has an impact as these bases can serve as unsinkable aircraft carriers,” naval analyst and author of “US Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World” told USNI News.
Short of war, these bases ensure that China, even with ongoing protests from Vietnam, the Philippines, and the US, will be able to freely and easily conduct operations throughout the region. The placement of the islands, runways, and helicopter pads ensures that everything within the South China Sea could be reachable by Chinese military assets in two hours or less.
“By hopscotching between bases, the helicopter fleet would be unconstrained by fuel range or limited numbers of ship-borne landing berths, creating a continuous and contiguous web of surveillance and response capability,” The Diplomat reports.
Beyond the dredging of islands, China is also undertaking an ambitious naval construction program focusing on the construction of aircraft carriers and the ability to operate overseas. This focus on fleet modernization, in conjunction with the ongoing dredging of islands, means that the South China Sea will likely be nothing more than a “Chinese lake” by 2030, Center for Strategic and International Studies writes.
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