China is looking into plans to build an artificial island in the South China Sea to use as a military base complete with an airstrip and sea port, according to the South China Morning Post, citing Chinese scholars. The artificial island would be extended along the Fiery Cross Reef, a disputed part of the Spratly Islands, where China already controls installations.
The planned expansion on the disputed Fiery Cross Reef, if approved, would be a further indication of China’s change of tack in handling long-running sovereignty disputes from a defensive stance to an offensive one, analysts said. They said it was seen as a step to the declaration of an air defence identification zone.
The Philippines last month protested against China’s reclamation activities at nearby Johnson South Reef, site of a 1988 skirmish between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies that was triggered by China’s occupation of Fiery Cross Reef.
With recent developments in the South China Sea having again focused the international spotlight on China, the analysts warned reclamation at the Fiery Cross atoll – which China, the Philippines and Vietnam all claim – would further strain Beijing’s relations with neighbours.
The proposal has already been submitted to the central government, the Post reports, mapping out the artificial island that would be at least double the size of the US military base of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
A retired PLA senior colonel said in the report that the landing strip would allow China to better prepare for the the establishment of an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea.
By the end of last month, renditions of the proposed artificial island were passed from media outlet to media outlet, and the Global Times cited Shanghai-based China Shipbuilding NDRI Engineering as saying that it would include a landing strip and 5,000-tonne berth.
“We had the ability to build artificial islands years ago, but we had refrained because we didn’t want to cause too much controversy,” Zhang Jie, an expert on regional security with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted as saying.
“Building an artificial island can no doubt provide supplies to ships and oil rigs nearby, but this would also cause very severe negative impacts in the region,” she added.
[Images via Wikipedia]