[Editor’s Note: It looks like China will do anything to improve it’s claim to Fiery Cross Reef. Building an island is at least nonviolent for now.]
China is looking to expand its biggest installation in the Spratly Islands into a fully formed artificial island, complete with airstrip and sea port, to better project its military strength in the South China Sea, a Chinese scholar and a Chinese navy expert have said.
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 to build an artificial island there had been submitted to the central government, said Jin Canrong , a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. The artificial island would be at least double the size of the US military base of Diego Garcia, a remote coral atoll occupying an area of 44 square kilometres in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Jin added.
The reef currently houses Chinese-built facilities including an observation post commissioned by Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.
Li Jie, a naval expert from the Chinese Naval Research Institute, said the expanded island would include the airstrip and port. After the expansion the island would continue to house the observation post and to provide military supplies and assistance, he said.
A retired People’s Liberation Army senior colonel, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the construction of a landing strip on Fiery Cross Reef would allow China to better prepare for the establishment of an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea.