Bulk work in the Johnson Reef area
Photo: Philippine Department of Foreign / AP
In early June, the American edition of Bloomberg, citing the head of the Philippine municipality of Kalayan, Eugenio Bito-onon, reported that Chinese experts had begun to build artificial islands in the area of the Spratly archipelago. A Philippine official expressed concern that the active and rapid construction carried out by China would allow him to control the entire South China Sea and nearby regions in the future. In addition, ongoing work will have serious political implications. The Spratly Islands are subject to much controversy. Six countries apply for these land sites and nearby water areas at once: China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. The emergence of new artificial islands belonging to China will certainly complicate the situation around the disputed archipelago.
According to some media reports, back in May, one of the leading organizations in Chinese shipbuilding published artificial island schemes. At the same time, it was explained that the construction of such a structure could be carried out even in the area of the Spratly Islands. The proposed project interested the Chinese and foreign public, but soon all the published materials were deleted. The project organization declined to comment. It is known that according to the project, various infrastructure facilities should be located on an artificial island, including greenhouses and sports facilities. The most interesting part of the project was the airfield and seaport, which are also supposed to be built on the new island.
Immediately after the publication of the schemes of the artificial island, an opinion appeared that China intends to build at least one such structure in the area of the Spratly archipelago and place a naval and aviation base. Naturally, official Beijing did not comment on these assumptions in any way and continues to adhere to the long-chosen non-disclosure strategy.
China could hide its works for a long time, however, the statements of the head of one of the municipalities of the Philippines interfered with it. Apparently, the Filipino military and security forces noticed the activity of Chinese ships with special equipment and made appropriate conclusions from this. In combination with previously published, but deleted information on the project of artificial islands, information on the start of construction can only speak of one thing - Chinese specialists have begun the active stage of work.
A little later, there were some details of a bold project. So, China intends to build an island and, possibly, military bases on it, in the Fayry Kross reef area, also known as Yunshu. Thus, new military bases may appear approximately 560 miles from the Chinese island of Hainan and 250 miles from the coast of Vietnam. It should be noted that this region of the South China Sea has been controlled since the end of the eighties. A radar station and a number of other equipment, as well as a garrison of 200 soldiers and officers, are located on one of the local islands. Since its inception, this small Chinese base has provoked Vietnam and other countries in the region to make unfriendly statements about Chinese policy.
An indirect confirmation of the fact that China is able to build an artificial island or several such facilities are several other projects. For example, near the island province of Hainan, the construction of an artificial island of Fenghuang, measuring 2008x1250 meters, has been underway since 350. It is supposed to build hotels, residential complexes and other objects of tourist infrastructure on this island. Shanghai's 2005 and the Yanshan deep-water port are connected by the Donghai Bridge, 32,5 km in length. The bridge is built on an artificial spit, stretching from the coast to the island with the port.
The cost and timing of the construction of the island in the Fayry Kross reef area for obvious reasons remains unknown. According to various estimates, the project cost may exceed 5-7 billions of US dollars, and the construction will take at least 8-10 years. With such serious investments, China will receive an island of up to several square kilometers. The size of the reclaimed island will allow it to accommodate the port and the airfield, as well as all the necessary infrastructure.
As follows from the available information, the construction of an artificial island near the Spratly archipelago pursues mainly military-political goals. Accommodation on the island of the sea and air base will increase the range of ships and aircraft of the Navy and Air Force. There is also a version according to which China wants to increase the area of its territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone at the expense of the waters that are "formed" around the new island. However, this version is hardly true, since international law will not allow Beijing to claim the waters near an artificial island. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in their status, artificial islands and various structures (for example, oil platforms) differ from ordinary islands and cannot have their own territorial waters.
If the information available is true, by the middle of the next decade a new island will appear in the Spratly archipelago, fully occupied by Chinese military facilities. The bases of this island will allow Chinese aircraft and ships to control the entire water area of the South China Sea and nearby regions. In addition, China will have the opportunity to go into the Indian Ocean and firmly establish itself in it. Simultaneously with the construction of the island and bases, China will develop its naval forces, which will lead to a corresponding change in the balance of forces in the region.
As far as we know, at the moment foreign countries have reacted to the new works of Chinese specialists with only a few condemning statements. At the same time, there is still no information about the symmetric or asymmetric actions of the states whose interests could be touched by the new Chinese island. Given the complexity of the situation in the region and the extreme difficulty of implementing similar projects, it can be said that China is guaranteed to become the leader in the region in the foreseeable future, and other countries, including those that claim to the Spratly Islands, will not be able to compete with it. Perhaps in order to avoid unpleasant consequences, the Vietnamese, Philippine, Malaysian, Taiwanese and Brunei governments will make some attempts to influence the situation by political means. However, official Beijing seems to have made a decision and does not intend to revise it.
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