China is considering plans to build an artificial island in the South China Sea to use as a military base from which to project power, according to the South China Morning Post.
According to the report, which cited prominent Chinese scholars and a navy expert, the artificial island would be constructed on the Fiery Cross Reef, where China already maintains some installations. The reef is part of the Spratly Islands and is disputed by the Philippines and Vietnam.
“China is looking to expand its biggest installation in the Spratly Islands into a fully formed artificial island, complete with airstrip and sea port, to better project its military strength in the South China Sea,” the report said.
The South China Morning Post report follows similar ones in some of China’s press late last month that said plans had been drawn up on constructing an artificial island on the Fiery Cross Reef. Those reports said that the project would cost $5 billion and take ten years, and would ultimately produce a five-square-kilometer military base. The reports said that the strategic value of the base would “be equivalent to that for building an aircraft carrier.”
“The artificial island at Fiery Cross Reef will be an unreplaceable military base with great strategic significance due to its location and size. Such a base will realize the value of the South China Sea for China and ensure China’s status in South East Asia,” the Chinese-language reports said, according to Filipino media. The Filipino media noted that the base would fall within the Philippines 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
Such a base would greatly enhance China’s ability to project offensive power in the disputed South China Sea.
The South China Sea Morning Post’s sources—which included Jin Canrong, a well-known professor of international relations at Renmin University—said that the artificial island would most likely be used in part to enforce a future Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea. China caused fierce backlash throughout the region last year when it established an ADIZ in the East China Sea, which overlapped with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan’s existing ones.
At the time the East China Sea ADIZ was first announced, Chinese officials said that future ones would be established when conditions warranted them. The U.S. has since repeatedly warned China explicitly against establishing a South China Sea ADIZ.
Tensions have been especially high in the South China Sea in recent months. Most notably, Vietnam and China have repeatedly clashed over Beijing placing an oil rig in disputed wars. Meanwhile, the Philippines has been accusing China of reclamation of the Johnson South Reef, another one of the Spratly Islands. Manila has also raised concerns about China activities around the Gavin Reef (Gaven Reef) and Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef), which Philippine officials said were also consistent with reclamation.
In the SCMP report, Jin, the Renmin University Professor, said that decision on whether to proceed with building the artificial island on the Fiery Cross Reef would depend on progress on reclamation at Johnson South Reef.
“It’s a very complicated oceanic engineering project, so we need to learn from the experience” on Johnson South, Jin said, SCMP reported.