Over the past year, Beijing has been particularly aggressive in conducting reclamation activities on Chinese-controlled reefs and islets in the Spratlys, parts of which are which are also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Following the most recent period of construction, China is said to have essentially “created” five new islands from existing reefs, including Fiery Cross Reef, which has reportedly become the largest island in the Spratlys.
Military experts believe that the construction of a strategic base on Fiery Cross could tip the balance of power in the South China Sea territorial disputes in China’s favor, especially as the reef is located just 460 km away from the key Vietnamese naval base at Cam Ranh Bay.
Some analysts have noted that further reclamation could potentially expand Fiery Cross to as large as 30 square km in size, which would rival that of America’s naval base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Professor Ni Lexiong from the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law says China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea forms part of a long-term strategy aimed at disrupting the balance in the Spratlys and extending the country’s influence further into the South China Sea on a more permanent basis. Once China can establish a firm base in the region its strategies will instantly become more flexible, even allowing Beijing to forcibly seize reefs and islets in the control of other countries.
Ni believes the reclamation activities in the Spratlys could offer China a strong counterpoint to America’s “return to Asia” policy and will also be beneficial to Chinese civilians who can count on a safe passage through the South China Sea for trade purposes. He also notes, however, that tensions will likely increase and the odds of conflict in the region will also increase as a result.
Full article: PLA base on Fiery Cross Reef could tip balance in South China Sea (Want China Times)