China’s rapid construction of a string of artificial islands in the South China Sea has entered a more troubling phase. According to a major Pentagon report released last week, Beijing is shifting its focus from land reclamation to building deepwater ports, military-grade airstrips and other strategic infrastructure on top of its islands.
While it’s unclear whether military forces will also be deployed, these sophisticated outposts will enable Beijing to bolster its power projection presence throughout the South China Sea. The United States is now struggling to devise a strategy to prevent China from militarising its newly completed islands. A new level of collective diplomatic pressure is required.