China has turned a strategically important reef into probably the biggest island in the Spratlys, Chinese scholars say, and the expansion is expected to continue.
Analysts said the continued expansion of Fiery Cross Reef, which China calls Yongshu Reef, is expected eventually to provide a vital outpost for Chinese military and civilian commercial activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea, many of which are closer to other claimants’ coasts than to China’s.
Beijing has yet to openly admit its plans to artificially expand reefs in the sea into islands.
Last week, Taiwan’s top intelligence official, Lee Hsiang-chou, said publicly that Beijing was conducting seven construction projects in the South China Sea, with five of them reportedly having been approved since Xi Jinping became president.
The expansion of Fiery Cross Reef proceeded faster than scheduled and it was likely to have outgrown Taiping Island – the biggest in the Spratlys chain – said Jin Canrong , a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
Controlled by Taiwan, Taiping, also known as Ita Aba, is the only one of the islands with fresh water. It has an area of about 0.5 sq km.
Wang Hanling, an expert on the South China Sea from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Fiery Cross Reef now nearly covered about 1 sq km and reclamation work would probably continue.
Both scholars said it was unclear how big the island would eventually become but it would probably house both military and civilian facilities.
Full article: From reef to biggest island in Spratlys, and China’s not done yet at Fiery Cross (South China Morning Post)