Satellite images have revealed a new dredging project in the Vietnamese Spratly Islands. It is believed that the project is intended to transform Ladd Reef from a shifting tidal land mass into a sturdy island that will house both military and civilian assets for the Vietnamese government. The South China Sea is currently contested by China and several countries in the area, including Vietnam, who have made maritime claims over the ownership of the area.
The Vietnamese government declined to comment on the dredging project. China has responded, warning Vietnam to cease the development of its sovereign territory. The Chinese feel entitled to the area based on claims made from Nine-Dash Line map, despite the UN ruling that they have no legal claim over the area.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, claims that China has “indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha [Spratly] islands, including Riji [Ladd] reef.”
“We urge the relevant countries to respect China’s sovereignty and rights, end their illegal occupation and illegal operations, and not take any actions that may complicate the situation,” he said.
China is attempting to battle the growing resistance to its presence in Vietnamese waters by issuing false statements about Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. The Chinese government claims that Phuc supports their military projects in the South China Sea, despite Vietnamese officials adamantly denying China’s claims.
The reef is currently home to a lighthouse but is “completely submerged at high tide.” It is believed that the dredging project is designed to raise the entire island above sea level so that aircraft runways can be developed.