Despite claims in August that it would stop reclaiming land in the South China Sea, Beijing is continuing to pursue construction of man-made islands flush with military equipment.
Citing the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), The Washington Post reports that China is planning large-scale construction on the recently dredged Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, including a new airfield. The new airfield, when operational, would allow China to establish interlocking zones of air control over the region.
In addition to the airfield, China is also planning on equipping the recently dredged islands with anti-aircraft weapons and various naval vessels, Michael J. Green, a senior CSIS vice president, told the Post, citing Chinese officials. This combination of weapons would further solidify China’s position within the region.
These developments, Green told the paper, would establish “overlapping air control over the South China Sea, and not just from one airfield but from three. … [I]t won’t stop the U.S. policy of asserting freedom of navigation, but it makes it a lot more complicated operation.”
The construction on the Subi and Mischief Islands follows the pattern of China’s previous construction on the Fiery Cross Reef. In April, satellite images from Airbus Defence and Space located and identified a 3,000-meter (9,842-foot) long military-grade runway, as well as construction of seawalls on the island for an artificial harbour.
According to CSIS, Subi Reef is already equipped with a potential 3,000-meter airstrip in addition to a helipad and a military facility. Mischief Reef, which is rapidly being expanded, is equipped so far with two military facilities and fortified seawalls.
“China appears to be expanding and upgrading military and civilian infrastructure — including radars, satellite communication equipment, antiaircraft and naval guns, helipads and docks — on some of the man-made islands,” the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in a staff report from December 2014.
The continuation of construction and dredging on the islands, despite China’s promises to stop, will likely cast a cloud over Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit later this month. The US has repeatedly called on China to halt construction in the region so as to not inflame regional tensions.
The expansion of Chinese construction in the South China Sea is kicking off a series of territorial disputes with Beijing’s neighbours in the south, all of whom also have competing maritime claims to the reefs and islands.
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines all have military bases within the South China Sea on islands that those countries control.
As of June 2015, China has reclaimed more than 2,900 acres of land since December 2013. View the details of the power struggle below:
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