China has quietly continued building more disputed islands in the South China Sea, expanding its self-proclaimed area to about 72 acres.
The islands have been monitored by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), which recently published a report about what China has been up to.
“International attention has shifted away from the slow-moving crisis in the South China Sea over the course of 2017, but the situation on the water has not remained static. While pursuing diplomatic outreach toward its Southeast Asian neighbors, Beijing continued substantial construction activities on its dual-use outposts in the Spratly and Paracel Islands,” AMTI said. “China completed the dredging and landfilling operations to create its seven new islands in the Spratlys by early 2016, and seems to have halted such operations to expand islets in the Paracels by mid-2017. But Beijing remains committed to advancing the next phase of its build-up — construction of the infrastructure necessary for fully-functioning air and naval bases on the larger outposts.”
The Initiative also reported:
AMTI has identified all the permanent facilities on which China completed or began work since the start of the year. These include buildings ranging from underground storage areas and administrative buildings to large radar and sensor arrays. These facilities account for about 72 acres, or 290,000 square meters, of new real estate at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs in the Spratlys, and North, Tree, and Triton Islands in the Paracels. This does not include temporary structures like storage containers or cement plants, or work other than construction, such as the spreading of soil and planting of grass at the new outposts.
You can read the full report here.
China has become angered in the past when the U.S. performs Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) in the South China Sea, as China claims that the contested islands there are its own.
The contested islands are claimed by various countries, and China does not own them. However, China has lashed out after the United States performs FONOPs in the South China Sea, saying they are military provocation.
The last FONOP exercise in August came during a time when tensions were running high in the world regarding North Korea, given Kim Jong Un’s latest threat to bomb Guam, a U.S. territory, and its two tests in July of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The United States would seek China’s cooperation against North Korea.
That was not the first time the United States sailed near islands that China falsely claims as its own. It was the third FONOP under President Donald Trump.
In May, the USS Dewey sailed less than 12 nautical miles from Mischief Reef, of the Spratly Islands, which are man-made islands claimed by Beijing.
The May incident was the first time something like this had happened under President Trump’s administration. Relations with China were supposedly on the rise, as the White House wants to ensure China’s cooperation on issues such as North Korea.