Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This affects the whole world - Golez. PLA base on Fiery Cross Reef could tip balance in South China Sea


China appears to be building a military base on the newly expanded Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands in an attempt to tip the balance of territorial disputes in the South China Sea in Beijing’s favor, reports Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao.Over the past year, Beijing has been particularly aggressive in conducting reclamation activities on Chinese-controlled reefs and islets in the Spratlys, parts of which are which are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Following the most recent period of construction, China is said to have essentially “created” five new islands from existing reefs, including Fiery Cross Reef, which has reportedly become the largest island in the Spratlys.

Fiery Cross Reef, which China calls Yongshu Reef, is nominally administered by Sansha city under southern China’s Hainan province and has been occupied by the PRC since 1998, when a “UNESCO marine observation station” was built there. Since then, China has also constructed a helicopter pad, a wharf, a two-story building and a 500-square-meter greenhouse on the reef, where about 200 People’s Liberation Army soliders are stationed.

Of particular interest to neighboring countries is a newly constructed airstrip on Fiery Cross captured by British satellites. The strip, measuring around 3 kilometers in length and about 200-300 meters in width, would be large enough to cater to China’s H-6 jet bomber and Y-20 large military transport aircraft. Along with the construction of a new harbor large enough to dock military tankers, experts believe Beijing is aiming to build a strategic base on Fiery Cross, the only Chinese reef under reclamation large enough for such a project.

Military experts believe that the construction of a strategic base on Fiery Cross could tip the balance of power in the South China Sea territorial disputes in China’s favor, especially as the reef is located just 460 km away from the key Vietnamese naval base at Cam Ranh Bay.

Some analysts have noted that further reclamation could potentially expand Fiery Cross to as large as 30 square km in size, which would rival that of America’s naval base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.The US has called on China to freeze its “provocative” reclamation activities in the South China Sea, with a Pentagon spokesperson calling on Beijing to “engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities.”

China has declined to confirm the construction of the vast island but said Beijing needs to build facilities in the South China Sea for strategic reasons. “We need to go out, to make our contribution to regional and global peace. We need support like this, including radar and intelligence,” said a PLA spokesperson.

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