South China Sea: artificial-island building accelerates to fill in holes on atolls

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China has responded to an international outcry over its construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea by accelerating the building program, according to analysis of the latest aerial surveillance.

Australia, the United States and most recently the G7 group of rich nations have all warned China to stop its frenetic sand-dredging activities, fearing that it is creating airstrips, ports and battlements that will dramatically alter the balance of regional military power.

So far, to the relief of some Australian officials, China has not retaliated or diplomatically responded in any serious manner to strident comments a fortnight ago by Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson and Defence Minister Kevin Andrews.

But nor has it taken any heed.

The latest surveillance photographs show an armada of Chinese dredging vessels has shifted its work focus from the outer rims of doughnut-shaped atolls to the “holes” inside, according to government, military and non-government sources who have viewed the photographs taken up to and around June 10.

These latest developments are giving rise to concerns in Canberra that what is already the world’s greatest offshore “reclamation” program – with 800 hectares of submerged reef converted into dry land – could end up five times as large.

“The outer ring is almost filled in, but there is obvious evidence to suggest the hole is being filled,” said one source, citing the work to “thicken” the rim of Subi Reef in particular, in the Spratly archipelago off the coast of the Philippines.

Full article: South China Sea: artificial-island building accelerates to fill in holes on atolls (Sydney Morning Herald)

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