The “strategic triangle” that would allow Beijing to control the South China Sea

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Of all the potential flashpoints in the contested South China Sea, none is more nervously watched today than Scarborough Shoal, a large coral atoll with a reef-rimmed lagoon. It encompasses 58 sq mi (150 sq km) and lies less than 150 miles (241 km) from the Philippines’ coast.

Observers have long suspected that China wants to build a militarized island there, and last week the Philippines defense ministry distributed pictures of what it said were Chinese vessels gathering in the area that could become involved in such activity.
The South China Sea is a geopolitical tinderbox, rich in natural resources and strategic value. China seems intent on the eventually controlling the sea, and Scarborough Shoal could be the final piece of the puzzle. Elsewhere in the sea China has been building artificial islands with military-grade runways, monitoring equipment, and deep-water ports in recent years, all in support of its territorial claim to nearly the entire waterway. An international tribunal invalidated that claim in July, but Beijing vowed to ignore the ruling.

First, China would need to turn Scarborough Shoal into an artificial island, as it’s done in numerous cases in the Spratly archipelago in recent years. The work causes enormous environmental damage and requires extensive dredging equipment, and China has become adept at it.

The “strategic triangle” that would allow Beijing to control the South China Sea

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