Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Breaking Island News

Asia: Tensions Mount in South China Sea as China Develops Artificial Island for Military Airbase

Chinese officials have created a 3,000 meter reef in the hotly-contested Spratly Islands, sparking fears that the People’s Republic has plans to build airbase to further stake its claim in the region.

Fiery Cross Reef, Spratly Islands - Photo Courtesy of www.janes.com

Fiery Cross Reef, Spratly Islands – Photo Courtesy of www.janes.com

Satellite images suggest that Chinese officials are in the process of creating a military airfield on an island at the heart of the hotly-contested Spratly Island Group. The images, published earlier this week in leading defense publication IHS Jane’s, reveal that construction teams have been working on expanding the north-western tip of the Fiery Cross Reef since August now, most likely with the aim of making it capable of hosting a landing strip.

The analysts then went on to describe a further project emerging towards the east of the island. A team of dredgers have dug out a huge portion of the island, pointing towards the creation of a sea port, which, at first glance already looks big enough to receive both tankers and other major surface combatants – not bad for an island which, but for a concrete platform built to house a small navy garrison with air-defense guns, was previously completely submerged underwater.

If the reports prove to be true, the developments would give China considerable clout during any inevitable future sovereignty disputes. According to defence and security analysts at IHS Jane’s, “this new island appears purpose-built to coerce other claimants into relinquishing their claims and possessions, or at least provide China with a much stronger negotiating position if talks over the dispute were ever held.”

The Spratly Islands are a collection of islands, reefs and shoals located in the South China Sea, between Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. Their sovereignty has been hotly contested for many years now, with China and the Philippines forming the most vocal contenders. Whilst largely uninhabited and insignificant in terms of landmass, the islands are viewed as geopolitically important and are thought to hold the key large reserves of oil and natural gas.

The project is the largest in scope since China stepped up its military posturing in the region 18 months ago and signals a dramatic intensification in the long-standing dispute, already attracting the ire of US military officials, who are vehemently opposed to the Chinese land-grab. When questioned about this latest land-reclamation project, a spokesman for the US Military, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Pool urged a need for cool heads in the escalating conflict.

“We urge China to stop its land reclamation program, and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities,” said Lieutenant Colonel Pool in a recent interview with French wire service Agence France-Presse.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these comments received little support in Beijing. China’s top general has already defended the construction of the 3,000-meter island as “justifiable”, pointing out that, of all the nations making assertions on the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands, China is in fact the only claimant not to occupy an insular airfield.

“China’s construction on the Yongshu Reef will not be affected by US words,” explained People’s Liberation Army Major General Luo Yuan in an editorial piece in the state-run Global Times newspaper (as cited by AFP and Russia Today).The US is obviously biased considering that the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam have already set up military facilities.”

 

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