China May Build 'Artificial Island' in Disputed Waters

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BEIJING – With tensions already high between China and its many South China Sea neighbors, Beijing could further strain relations with news that it is considering developing one of its installations there into an artificial island that could serve as a hub to project its military power.

In a story printed in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post this past weekend, a Professor Jin Canrong of Beijing’s Renmin University was quoted as saying that a proposal had already been submitted to the Chinese central government that would significantly expand an isolated installation in the Spratly Islands.

A view of Johnson South Reef, known to China as Chigua Reef and which the Philippines calls Mabini Reef, in the South China Sea in this handout photograph taken on February 25, 2014 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on May 14, 2014. The Philippine foreign ministry on Wednesday accused China of reclaiming land on the disputed reef in the South China Sea and said it appeared to be building an airstrip. Foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose told Reuters on May 14, 2014 that China had been moving earth and materials to Johnson Reef in the Spratlys Islands over recent weeks and was reclaiming land in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, an informal code of conduct for the region.Philippines Armed Forces via Reuters

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That installation, located in the hotly contested Fiery Cross Reef – which China, Vietnam and the Philippines all claim – is already home to a Chinese observation post which provides logistical support for Chinese military assets in the region. In the article, Li Jie, a naval expert at the Chinese Naval Research Institute explained that the expansion plans could possibly include the construction of an airstrip and port.

If the proposal is approved, such facilities would provide China with a stronger hub from which to project its naval and air strength over other claimants in the region. In the last year, China has more aggressively pursued its claims in the region, reportedly starting construction of an airfield on an island claimed by the Philippines and most recently moving an oil rig into waters within Vietnam’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

Beijing’s moves infuriated both countries and led to anti-China protests. The demonstrations in Vietnam turned into deadly rioting that forced China to evacuate thousands of their citizens from the country last month.

In this photo taken Feb. 28, 2013 by a surveillance plane, and released Thursday, May 15, 2014, by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, Chinese-made structures stands on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, in the Spratly Islands in South China Sea. The Philippines has protested China's reclamation of land in the disputed reef in the South China Sea that can be used to build an airstrip or an offshore military base in the increasingly volatile region, the country's top diplomat and other officials said said Wednesday, May 14, 2014. The white arrow was added by the source.Philippines Government via AP

Both countries have fought back by pulling a variety of levers that have in turn angered Beijing. The Philippines has filed an arbitration case under the United Nations Law of the Sea against Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Seas, while the Vietnamese navy has been butting heads with the Chinese, with reports of hundreds of ship-to-ship collisions occurring in recent weeks.

Worst of all for Beijing perhaps, both countries have cozied up closer to the United States, with military ties between all three countries warming up considerably this year alone.

This past April, during his last Asian tour, President Barack Obama announced a new 10-year defense pact with Manila that would see more U.S. troops operating from Philippine military bases.