Newly acquired aerial photographs of seven contested reefs located in the South China Sea shows that the construction of several fully-equipped Chinese naval and air bases are nearly completed. In a report published by the Inquirer, several photos taken from an altitude of 1,500 meters clearly shows vast structures being constructed on top of the man-made islands situated within the contested waters.
Despite the various protests and the recent win by the Philippines in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, China apparently still continued in its efforts to militarize the disputed area. The Asian superpower is likely building the various island fortresses to dominate the area and thwart anyone that would oppose their claim.
Based on the photos, China now has various bases in the different man-made islands built on top of several reefs. This includes islands on Fiery Cross Reef, Hughes Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef, Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, and Johnson South Reef. On top of the islands, China has built various structures, including a runway on Mischief Reef, several radar towers, multi-story buildings, aircraft hangars, communication towers, helipads, wind turbines, lighthouses, and various high-caliber defensive turrets. Most of the structures are apparently in their final stage of construction, with some even looking like they are already completed or almost ready for use.
According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a U.S.-based organization focusing on maritime issues, last year was China’s busiest construction year since it started claiming the contested area. Aside from the buildings, seaports, airstrips, and military facilities, the organization also revealed that China is building vast underground tunnels and missile shelters.
The newly acquired photos also reveal that China is heavily defending their new bases with various military ships constantly patrolling the area. This includes heavy missile frigates equipped with missile launchers, dual barrel 100mm guns, and other weaponry. Troop transport vessels along with other large vessels have also been spotted. Several countries, including the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, and Malaysia, all have legitimate claims to parts of the South China Sea, but China continues to stick to its vague Nine-Dash Line claim, which encompasses the majority of the contested area. China’s claim, which includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and the Macclesfield Bank, currently encroaches on several countries’ exclusive economic zones.