China’s Ministry of Transport opened a maritime rescue center in Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef) in the Spratly Islands earlier this week.
The Ministry stated that the center has been built to better protect navigation and transport safety in the South China Sea. The move follows last year’s establishment of two rescue ships to operate in the area. The two ships have so far rescued 16 people and two ships in eight operations, says the Ministry. Property worth about $1.7 million has been salvaged.
The Ministry of Natural Resources has recently launched marine observation centers on Fiery Cross Reef and two other reefs in the area. They provide marine forecasts and disaster alarms.
Fiery Cross Reef is also the site of an airbase, including a 3,125 meter-long runway, and an early warning radar site. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it is “the most advanced of China’s bases” in the South China Sea’s disputed areas, with 12 hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers already completed. It has enough hangars to accommodate 24 combat aircraft and four larger planes. The run way is long enough to land a Chinese Xian H-6 bomber; a bomber like this could perform combat operations within 3,500 miles of the reclaimed reef.
Since 2013, China has engaged in artificial island-building in the Spratlys, creating seven islands and 3,200 acres of new land. Subi Reef is the largest of China’s seven man-made outposts in the Spratlys. Subi, along with Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, has military infrastructure including runways. Subi, about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from China’s coast, is now home to nearly 400 individual buildings. Some commentators have indicated that it could be a future base for hundreds of People’s Liberation Army marines.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the area.