Home China Beijing’s Large-Scale Land Reclamation in South China Sea Continues at Rapid Pace

Beijing’s Large-Scale Land Reclamation in South China Sea Continues at Rapid Pace

China’s reclamation work in the contested waters of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is one of those thorny issues that isn’t going to go away anytime soon, no matter how some would hope it to.

Recent satellite images show Chinese reclamation work west of the Spratly Islands region continues at breakneck speed, and on Fiery Cross Reef they’ve built a 3 km. runaway suitable for military use.

You can see details in the above video about China’s continuing work turning reefs into islands.

In late 2014, satellite images showed that work on Fiery Cross Reef was well under way as they steadily began turning it into an island. Images taken on February 6 showed further reclamation work, and images taken on March 23 showed that a runaway and apron construction were in process, plus other works and further dredging.

Recent satellite images shows that Fiery Cross Reef now includes a 3km runaway suitable for military use.    (Image: YouTube Screengrab)
Recent satellite images show that Fiery Cross Reef now includes a 3 km. runaway suitable for military use. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Images from March also showed heavy reclamation work by China on Subu Reef, where they can also create another 3 km. airstrip.

As of February this year, the Chinese have finalized advanced stages of construction for a half dozen different island reefs, and they’ve begun construction on a seventh, according to Reuters.

As you can see in the below video, the U.S. Navy is so alarmed they’ve dubbed it China’s ‘great wall of sand’.


China is now “creating a great wall of sand” through their land reclamation in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., the commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet, said in a statement.

“But what’s really drawing a lot of concern in the here and now is the unprecedented land reclamation currently being conducted by China.

“China is building artificial land by pumping sand on to live coral reefs—some of them submerged—and paving over them with concrete. China has now created over 4 square kilometers [1.5 square miles] of artificial landmass.

“China is creating a great wall of sand with dredges and bulldozers over the course of months,” according to Admiral Harris. He added that considering China’s “pattern of provocative actions towards smaller claimant states” in the South China Sea, the scope of the building raised “serious questions about Chinese intentions.”

According to a December 2014 report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission:“China appears to be expanding and upgrading military and civilian infrastructure—including radar, satellite communication equipment, antiaircraft and naval guns, helipads, and docks—on some of the man-made islands.”

This has further alarmed China’s neighbors and the U.S. China’s territorial claims in the Spratly archipelago are  mostly 1,000 miles from its own shores, reports Reuters.

The Spratly archipelago is also contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

A quick glance at any map will show that most of these nations are geographically much closer to the contested area than is China.

To see why the Philippines says Beijing’s moves are an international concern, see the below video.


US officials on the dispute

Within his role as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain said that the Chinese moves were “aggressive,” according to Reuters.

“When any nation fills in 600 acres of land and builds runways, and most likely is putting in other kinds of military capabilities in what is international waters, it is clearly a threat to where the world’s economy is going, has gone, and will remain for the foreseeable future,” McCain told a public briefing in Congress.

President Barrack Obama himself has criticized Beijing for bullying smaller nations over the South China Sea row.

“Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules, and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” Obama said, according to The Guardian. “We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside,” he said.

Absurd claims

China claims most of South China Sea as its own, and bases that claim on a so-called nine-dash line drawn on a 1940’s map. It’s an absurd (but dangerous) claim as pointed out by Mohan Malik for World Affairs.

China is busy doing reclamation and construction work on seven disputed reefs and islands in the South China Sea.  (Image: YouTube Screengrab)
China is busy doing reclamation and construction work on seven disputed reefs and islands in the South China Sea. (Screenshot/YouTube)

“Thus, although Beijing claims around eighty percent of the South China Sea as its ‘historic waters’ (and is now seeking to elevate this claim to a “core interest” akin with its claims on Taiwan and Tibet), China has, historically speaking, about as much right to claim the South China Sea as Mexico has to claim the Gulf of Mexico for its exclusive use, or Iran the Persian Gulf, or India the Indian Ocean,” Malik wrote.

Despite the ridiculousness of Beijing’s supposed historical claims, it doesn’t stop Beijing issuing veiled threats to those opposing their objectives and views.

If Beijing’s aggressive maneuvering in what is considered international waters continues as it has, it does not bode well for the future stability of the Asia-Pacific region.

James Burke
What keeps the world ticking? James is always looking for the answer and the latest news from around the globe. When he's not behind his computer, he's basking in the Thailand sun, or dreaming of the southern hemisphere, where he grew up in rural Australia.

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