27 April 2015

South China Sea: China’s Unprecedented Spratlys Building Program

Victor Robert Lee, “South China Sea: China’s Unprecedented Spratlys Building Program,” The Diplomat, 25 April 2015.

Subi Reef looks next in line for an airstrip, as building and reclamation continue with unprecedented speed.

High-resolution satellite images from April 17, 2015 reveal that in the space of ten weeks China has built an island on top of Subi Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands group. The dimensions and shape of the land fill, which is still underway, are compatible with a potential airstrip 3,300 meters long, similar to the prospective length of the runway currently being paved on Fiery Cross, the site of another installation being built by China on a former reef in the Spratlys. …

Disputed Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, also the site of rapid land reclamation by China, has been filled in with sand and coral cuttings to an area of approximately 2.42 square kilometers as of April 13, 2015, from virtually no above-water terrain as of a few months ago. Satellite imagery shows a minimum of 23 dredgers operating at Mischief on April 13, along with at least two dozen other large construction-related vessels within the lagoon formed by the circular reef. In that day’s satellite image, 28 concrete transport/mixing trucks can be seen, in addition to dozens of other large trucks and dozens of backhoes.

China is expanding its land fill across the northern rim of Mischief Reef as well, along a relatively straight portion of the submerged reef with dimensions that could support a landing strip longer than 3,000 meters. Imagery of the southwest rim of Mischief shows the complete filling-in of a large sector of reef in a mere eight weeks.