Update on the construction of islands and airfields in the South China Sea

The Sydney Morning Herald has photos of the transformation of a couple of islands in the South China Sea.

This is an update on the construction of islands and airfieldsin the South China Sea.

Before in May

After End of July

The Planned Airfields

The CGI plans show a runway, hangars for fast jets, a port, wind turbines, and greenhouses. (China State Shipbuilding Corporation)

China has had a presence at many of these reefs since the late 1980s, when it began building platforms ostensibly under the guise of “sea-level monitoring”. Fiery Cross Reef is one of the more notable examples of this, but has since been developed into a PLA Navy garrison, complete with pier, greenhouses, and coastal artillery.

In the case of Johnson South Reef, China wrested the reef from Vietnamese control in 1988 in a skirmish that left up to 70 Vietnamese personnel dead. Since the images of reclamation at the reef were published in May 2014, plans showing a runway, hangars for fast jets, a port, wind turbines, and greenhouses have been widely circulated online. The plans were first announced in 2012 and then published by the No. 9 Design & Research Institute of China State Shipbuilding Corporation, although they were later taken down from the institute’s website.

It is important to note that China is not alone in conducting land reclamation of the South China Sea islands it controls. Since capturing Southwest Cay from the Philippines in 1975, Vietnam has substantially altered the island, adding a harbour and other land features in the past 10 years. Taiwan, which controls Itu Aba (Taiping) island, has built an airstrip and is currently upgrading its naval facilities. The Philippines has also announced plans to upgrade an airport and pier on Thitu (Pagasa) island, although resources remain a major issue for Manila.

The main difference between these activities and China’s is that they modified existing land masses, while Beijing is constructing islands out of reefs that for the most part were under water at high tide.

SOURCES – Sydney Morning Herald, Janes, Bloomberg

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