China May Now Have Operational Airstrip In South China Sea

MaoNo / Pixabay

Since mid-2013, China has undertaken a massive land reclamation project in the South China Sea aimed at increasing the size of its claimed possessions. So far over 2,000 acres of land have been reclaimed through dredging turning what were small reefs and outcroppings of rock into islands capable of hosting military bases. This is a major cause for concern to other claimant nations and members of the international community who fear the security implications of China’s actions. Under a storm of criticism from other countries, China has recently announced that the majority if its land reclamation work has finished but now the bulk of activity has transitioned into the construction of military facilities. This issue of Chines militarization in the South China Sea is not going to disappear anytime soon unfortunately.

From Reclamation to Building

Recently China has announced that its land reclamation projects had finished on “some islands” in the South China Sea. Some believe the announcement was made to ease tensions with the U.S. prior to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to the U.S. in September. Whatever the case may be, evidence shows that while island reclamation appears to have stopped on five out of seven sites, construction of facilities on the reclaimed land is now picking up steam. Island reclamation continues though at Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, both of which are claimed by the Philippines and satellite imagery from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) confirms this.

Building Construction

While land reclamation appears to be finished at Fiery Cross Reef, construction on the reclaimed land is accelerating. Imagery shows that the airfield on Fiery Cross Reef is nearly complete and might be in service sooner than originally imagined. At 3,000 meters-long, the airfield should be able to accommodate most military aircraft in the Chinese inventory. Earlier in May, a U.S. military commander suggested that the airfield might reach operational capacity by year-end, a prospect which no longer seems to be the case. The reclamation work at the reef has also allowed for the construction of a new harbor that will allow better protection for Chinese vessels. Meanwhile, it would appear that two helipads, aircraft support facilities are being constructed along with possibly a radar tower.

On Johnson South Reef, it appears that two radar towers are under construction along with two already finished helipads and up to three satellite communications antennas. Johnson South Reef had been claimed and occupied by Vietnam up until 1988 when a Chinese attack forced out the Vietnamese. Since then the Chinese have retained control over the reef while Vietnam still controls nearby islands. Construction of facilities also is occurring elsewhere on islands controlled by China.

China’s Intentions

Despite China’s numerous pronouncements that one of the primary purposes of the land reclamation is to create islands which can host maritime support, search and rescue, and meteorological facilities to mariners in the region, China is quite secretive about its work. Recently CBS News crews have been denied access to China’s new islands though Hua Chuying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in response to CBS inquiries “I can tell you for sure that the Chinese government has nothing to hide from the international community.” Obviously the message from Beijing is different than the reality.

China it must be said is playing catch up to other claimant countries in the South China Sea. For example, prior to the construction of the airfield on Fiery Cross Reef, China was the only claimant nation apart from Brunei not to have an airfield in the South China Sea. While the construction of the airfield gives China a degree of parity with other countries, the scope of building overall far exceeds the military activities of others. Sidelining the peaceful intentions that China claims, the length of the airfield is unnecessary for civilian aircraft engaged in the search and rescue missions that China claims it seeks to provide; rather the airfield will be capable of handling military aircraft which need the extra take-off and landing space.

A few months ago it was revealed that China has placed artillery on at least one of the reclaimed islands. While this in itself should not be cause for concern due to its limited threat, there is the symbolism provided by it; peace is not the sole goal of China. The number of radar towers and surveillance equipment being built on the islands will provide China with the means to spy on neighbors in the region and will serve to further the hold China has on the islands it already controls and perhaps will provide the means to gain those it wishes to control.

Land reclamation by China has served to increase tension in the South China Sea over the past two years. Now that most of that reclamation work is over, one should not believe that an easing of tensions is in sight. The reclamation project was merely the first part of China’s plans for the South China Sea. Now that the islands have been built and expanded, the militarization of them will proceed. If anything, the status of China in the South China Sea will grow more contentious in the coming months and years.

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About the Author

Stephen Paul Brooker
Stephen Paul Brooker is a writer, political researcher, and political consultant. His specialty is in East Asia security issues and he has lectured at St. John's University on conflict theory and international relations. He holds a Master's Degree in International Relations and a graduate certificate in International Law and Diplomacy from St. John's University and a Bachelor's Degree in Government from Wagner College. Currently he is pursuing a Diploma in Economics from the University of London.

22 Comments on "China May Now Have Operational Airstrip In South China Sea"

  1. free open water ? and we don’t need there ok do to so the only thing there going to understand is for the us to kick there ass one good time that will be the end of it not going to talk them out of it that what i think

  2. I truly believe our president is capable of resisting any foreign intimidation, since we will take that granted opportunity to counter such unjustified acts and reserve the all mighty right to strike back where there will be no alternative backing statement from the global communities of nation , justice will always reserve on the side of the for the defender … the US welcomes the not reasonable challenge !

  3. it seems like the island building is much more transparent than the NSA and military bases that US have around the world, and still expanding; so can the US explain to the world their agenda of NSA and expanded military bases around the world? I don’t think every country needs to tell the world what they are doing if they got bigger guns huh? We cannot complain if we are doing the same thing – militarily at a larger scale and secretively. it only shows how much of a hypocrite that we are.

  4. I write only a few vague details because my main focus is to entice the correct person or persons to give my screenplay a fair chance at “YES” or “NO” or even “MAYBE”, which would be an option to purchase for a certain amount of time and a certain amount of money. Thank you for your reply, I appreciate how decent you are compared to other people, but no negative opinion can hinder me. I completely agree how nobody talks about particular topics or subjects, like the day in the future when enough of our federal government gives up on America. This is only my opinion, and I don’t try to force anyone to think like me, but if we do not have a president who intimidates other world leaders, then those world leaders will intimidate our president.

  5. the reason why it threaten America is because US is overstretch to the far end of the the Pacific looking to control the world as a policeman which is obvious seeking to grab national interest from others which does not belong to the US, it is simple and clear as abc to any naive nature, when the US stops all these acts then there would not be any conflicts…it is a matter of conflicts of interest but not because China is wrong, China has the right to look over the backyard likewise any house owner has the right to do the same ! ..this is the facts of judgement, but no body talks about it one talks about their own faults then pinpointing the opponent’s wrong doing..

  6. BABOY Makabayan | Jul 3, 2015, 4:10 am at 4:10 am |

    Next year, the UNCLOS will reward the handsome Pinoys that the West Philippine Sea belongs to the Philippines and NOT to the FILTHY NAZItsina SWINES !!!!
    FULL actions from the Philippine allies will PULVERIZE the VORACIOUS NAZItsina PIGS !!!!

  7. American culture is founded on the the principals of freedom. This is the way our goverment works.
    To answer your reply: we are already preparing! If you have paid attention all the signs are present.
    We have built a coalition, we have pre-positioned assets. We have sent our Secretary of State & Sec of Defence!
    The U.S. Marines have been training our allies

  8. BABOY Makabayan | Jul 3, 2015, 4:07 am at 4:07 am |

    EXTERMINATE NAZItsina !!!!

  9. BABOY Makabayan | Jul 3, 2015, 4:06 am at 4:06 am |

    And EXTERMINATE all commie PESTS from NAZItsina !!!! PERIOD !!!!!

  10. BABOY Makabayan | Jul 3, 2015, 4:05 am at 4:05 am |

    STOP buying these useless CHEAP FAKES from the NAZItsina !!!!

  11. don’t jus talk action please

  12. onli u boycott the whole world is buying

  13. its goin to be complete

  14. u sure china will be downed? dreaming?

  15. If China and Japan were to combine together and form a more powerful China, then China would have a much easier time taking over any variety of smaller countries. Of course, this may certainly need at least 10 more years, especially to combine military at the same time as technology advancement. Eventually, this more powerful China will become an overwhelming threat to America. This is exactly what happens in my screenplay titled; “The Last President” by Douglas Paige at; driveme89123yahoocom and asking only $1.7 million.

  16. Boycott all Chinese product

  17. China expansion must be stopped…period

  18. down china thats the only to stop his ambition

  19. In a few days the United Nations will hear the complaint against china for their violation of the UNCLOS !
    These intrusions by china must be destroyed. And it must be done with extreme violence, and we must send a message?
    China must be taught a severe lesson! And it would be fairly easy…….

  20. let’s hope you are right bankster

  21. Let’s hope mother nature stops making more stupid morons like you, or the whole planet will be a giant charcoal ball.

  22. Let’s hope the mother nature takes care of this idiot and submerege these islands, otherwise only solution is to nuke it!

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