China Opens Maritime Hub to Tighten Grip on South China Sea


China announced on January 29 that it has opened a maritime rescue facility on one of its artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, as the nation works to tighten its control over the strategic trade route. The rescue hub is on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, which is also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

China’s Ministry of Transport emphasized the peaceful purposes of the new center, saying it will “better protect navigation and transport safety in the South China Sea.” But Fiery Cross Reef is also home to an airbase that includes a 9,800-foot runway, early warning radar system, anti-aircraft weaponry and a missile-defense system.

Since China began building Fiery Cross and six other artificial islands in disputed parts of the South China Sea five years ago, it has insisted that the project is not for military purposes. But satellite imagery and Western intelligence reports consistently tell another story.

It is evident that these increasingly militarized islands are intended to function mainly as air and naval bases, allowing China to enforce its claims not just to the Spratly Islands but to nearly the entire South China Sea, and beyond.

“The only thing lacking are the deployed forces,” United States Navy Adm. Philip Davidson wrote last year. “Once occupied, China will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania. In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”