Described by many as “island fortresses”, China has engulfed the South China Sea with man made island bases, and has been accused of forming them specifically for military purposes. The key issue for other Asian neighbours is the placement of these bases in archipelagos that are under sovereignty claims by multiple countries. The Spratly Islands are claimed by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei – and have become the cornerstone of China’s quest for dominance in the region.
A leaked set of photos given to a Filipino newspaper showed just how elaborate the developments on military bases have been.
Some photographs showed cargo ships and supply vessels, which the newspaper said appeared to be delivering construction materials to the China-controlled islands.
Others show runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multistorey buildings that China has built on reefs.
The moving of its aircraft carriers airstrips and weapons into the region has earned the cluster of bases the nickname: “The Great Wall of Sand.”
The bases also appear to boast sophisticated technology and developed resources, with communication antennae, underground petrol, oil and lubricant storage tanks and control towers.
Despite the massive statement of intent from Beijing, the US has not let up on its challenges to China’s audacious claims, sending warships through the Paracel Islands in November.
A spokesperson from China’s military said: “We urge (the US) to stop these provocative actions to avoid any unforeseeable accidents.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper called out Beijing for “bullying” smaller nations in the region, adding that “China’s unilateral efforts to assert illegitimate maritime claims threaten other nations’ access to vital natural resources, undermine the stability of regional energy markets, and increase the risk of conflict”.
The key motivations for Beijing in its audacious water claims is the lucrative shipping lanes and trading ports that make up the South China Sea, provoking President Xi Jinping to enforce a controversial Nine-Dash Line demarcation of what China deems to be its territory.
The demarcation enforces a claim over all of the island clusters in the region and 90 percent of the South China Sea as a whole, but is deemed illegal by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).