Tim Stickings — Mail Online Feb 7, 2018
Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea has been revealed in new aerial photos obtained by a newspaper in the Philippines.
In what the news organisation described as an ‘unrestrained’ show of power China has apparently transformed seven reefs in the Spratly islands into military island fortresses featuring runways and observation towers.
The dramatic military build-up is shown in pictures taken from a height of 1,500m (4,920 feet) in the last six months of 2017, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
One of the fortresses is situated on Panganiban, a reef which a United Nations-backed court has previously ruled belongs to the Philippines, it is reported.
The pictures show a variety of military installations including missile frigates, observation towers and concrete helipads.
China’s continued reclamation in the South China Sea has eroded trust among rival claimants and could raise regional tensions, Southeast Asian foreign ministers said on Tuesday.
Beijing claims nearly all of the waterway and has been turning reefs and islets into islands and installing military facilities such as runways and equipment on them.
ASEAN members Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, also have partial claims in the waterway.
On the three largest reefs, Kagitingan, Panganiban and Zamora, runways appeared to be ready to receive military aircraft.
China had in December defended its construction on disputed islands as ‘normal’ after a US think tank released new satellite images showing the deployment of radar and other equipment.
The military expansion also ties into a broader Chinese initiative, called One Belt One Road.
The vast infrastructure project, launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping, is set to build a ‘new Silk Road’ of ports, railways and roads to expand trade across an arc of countries through Asia, Africa and Europe.