Photos: How a “fishermen’s shelter” on stilts became a Chinese military base in the South China Sea

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It started innocently enough, or so Beijing wanted the world to believe. In the mid-1990s, China built a small structure on stilts over a coral reef in the South China Sea, just 217 km (135 miles) from the coast of the Philippines’ Palawan island. At the time Beijing reassured Manila that the structure—a platform topped by four octagonal structures, with a Chinese flag waving overhead— was merely a fishermen’s shelter (paywall).

It’s obvious now it was planning something much larger. This week a US think tank—the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies—released satellite photos showing just how far things have progressed on the reef, part of the Spratly archipelago. According to the AMTI the reef now features “large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems.” (The latter, CIWS, detect and eliminate short-range incoming missiles or aircraft.) Below is the latest image, dated Nov. 15. The squares indicate the locations of the defensive systems.

Photos: How a “fishermen’s shelter” on stilts became a Chinese military base in the South China Sea

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