July 6, 2018
Satellite Images Show China Building Island Big Enough For Airstrip Off Reef In South China Sea

Satellite images show that China is indeed building its own island in the disputed South China Sea. The island is being built along the Spratly Islands off of the Fiery Cross Reef.

Reuters notes that the island was built in an area of the South China Sea that is currently being disputed. The U.S. has called for all parties to halt any building in the area until the dispute is resolved. However, China has made it clear it does not plan to abide by any restrictions placed by the U.S. In fact, Beijing has outright rejected Washington's call for all parties to halt activity in the disputed waters to ease tensions, saying it can build whatever it wants in the South China Sea.

From satellite images taken in the region, it appears that building whatever it wants, including military compounds, is exactly what China is doing. A leading military publication, IHS Jane's, reports that the island being built along the Fiery Cross Reef is large enough to house China's first off-shore military airstrip. Jane's notes that the island was first noted in satellite imagery back in August; however, the island has continued to grow the past few months.

"Satellite imagery of the island taken on 8 August and 14 November shows that in the past three months Chinese dredgers have created a land mass that is almost the entire length of the reef."
The case is pretty strong that China is planning to expand its military presence to the South China Sea. In fact, Hong Kong media outlets have reported that China is planning to build an airbase on Fiery Cross Reef seeming to back up the satellite images. However, back in August, the deputy head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Boundary and Ocean Affairs Departments said he was unaware of any such plans.

Jane's notes that the island is large enough to not only house a military airstrip but also military installments.

"The new island is more than 3,000 m long and between 200 and 300 m wide: large enough to construct a runway and apron. The dredgers are also creating a harbour to the east of the reef that would appear to be large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants."
Interestingly, the island is running straight towards an existing structure on the reef's southwestern edge. That structure was home to a PLAN garrison and had a pier, air-defense guns, anti-frogmen defenses, communications equipment, and a greenhouse. The concrete structure is currently not attached to the new island, but if previous Chinese land reclamation projects in the Spratlys are any guide, Jane's says it is only a matter of time before it is joined up.

What do you think China plans to do with the newly constructed island in the South China Sea? Is a military compound likely?