SOUTH CHINA SEA WATCH: China’s Island-Building Almost Done


The dispute over the strategic waterways of the South China Sea has intensified, pitting a rising China against its smaller and militarily weaker neighbors who all lay claim to a string of isles, coral reefs and lagoons mostly in the Spratly and the Paracel islands. Only about 45 of them are occupied. The area is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, rich in fish and potential gas and oil reserves, but it has now emerged as a possible flashpoint involving world powers and regional claimants.

A look at some of the most recent key developments:



New satellite images show China has almost completed the construction of a 3,000-meter (984-foot) airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, one of at least seven features in the Spratlys where massive island-building by Beijing has rattled other claimants and is opposed by the United States. According to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which analyzed the images, China continues to pave and mark the airstrip. The island has a partially-developed a port with nine temporary loading piers, plus two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas, and one possible radar tower.

The extent of the construction was perhaps most telling on photographs purportedly taken by China’s own sailors on Fiery Cross Reef. A total of 17 pictures made it to Sina, one of China’s main web portals, titled: “Gratifying results on China’s Yongshu Reef: building vegetable greenhouses and growing fruit trees.” They show women sailors posing on a sea barrier, another one smiling in a greenhouse where vegetables are grown, troops around a marker, pigs in a sty. Philippine security officials suspect the pictures of the female sailors may have been taken elsewhere and displayed publicly to show how far China’s island-building has advanced.

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