Tag Archives: Spratly Islands

A Decade Of Rocks And Reefs Becoming South China Sea Islands

2012 file photograph of Chinese fishing boats and radar station on Subic Reef in the Spratly Isands in the South China Sea

IT IS ALMOST a decade to the month since a sharp-eyed reader inquired about the white-domed object in a photograph (reproduced above) illustrating a post about Beijing’s use of fishing fleets to assert its maritime sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

It was a newly installed radar station and a helipad, towering over the old wharf that China had built to establish its claim to Zhubi Reef in Nansha — Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands to the rest of the world — in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

A decade of extensive island-building on, the contemporaneous assertion of another claimant to those waters, the Philippines, that China intended to use those enhanced specs of rocks and reefs for military purposes looks a lot more credible than Beijing’s claim that its radar stations sprouting up across the Spratlys were for weather monitoring. Not that Beijing’s claim sounded too plausible at the time.

New US Navy aerial reconnaissance photographs released by the US news agency, Associated Press, two of whose reporters were aboard the reconnaissance flight, show how fully militarized some the Spratlys have become, with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and fighter jets.

This AP composite shows the difference in Mischief Reef between 1999 and now.

This combo photo shows Chinese structures taken Feb. 8, 1999, top, and March 20, 2022, at the Mischief Reef in the disputed South China Sea.(AP Photos/Aaron Favila)

US Navy Indo-Pacific commander Admiral John Aquilino says construction of military facilities on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross appeared to have been completed.

So where next?

Leave a comment

Filed under China-U.S., Defence

PLAAF Bomber Touches Down For First Time In Paracels

Screenshot of Woody Island from Google Maps

The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and state media have published reports of bombers landing on what looks from the accompanying video to be the South China Sea reef of Woody Island in the Paracels (seen above).

Woody Island is called Yongxing Island by China and Phu Lam Island by Vietnam which also claims sovereignty over it. Taiwan claims it for its own, too. Earlier this year, the US Department of Defense in its National Defense Assessment declared the South China Sea as one of the greatest threats facing US security interests.

This is the first time China has landed or at least acknowledged landing, bombers on disputed territory in those waters.

Woody Island is one of those that China has been building out, including the addition of a 2,700-metre runway that the PLA Navy’s latest generation of fighter jets can take off and land from.

The aircraft in the video is an H-6K, a long-range strategic bomber capable of carrying supersonic cruise missiles and which would have the capacity to attack a US battle carrier group in the event of war. Flying from Woody Island the bomber would also have the range to launch missiles able to hit Alaska and Hawaii and any US base in South-east or East Asia.

China also appears to be building out its military aviation facilities in the Spratly islands to the south of the Paracels for long-range operations. The Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs all seem to be being kitted out to accommodate bombers and other large logistics aircraft such as Y-18 military transport planes and maritime patrol and refuelling aircraft.

H-6Ks based in the Spratlys could reach northern Australia and Guam.

The PLAAF has said China is developing its next-generation stealth strategic bomber, the H-20, that is believed to have a range of at least 10,000 kilometres, sufficient for intercontinental missions. Some reports say a prototype has been spotted, and the goal is to start testing a production model within two years. Also capable of being armed with nuclear weapons, the H-20 could be in operational service in four to five years.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Defence

Beijing And Washington Plot Course Through Disputed Waters Dispute

IT HAS BEEN three years since the United States sailed a warship within 12-miles of Subi Reef, part of the South China Sea’s Spratly islands that China claims as the Nansha islands. Washington says the recent passage of the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, was to assert the rights of freedom of navigation in international waters, albeit, this Bystander notes, waters also claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines as their own.

For all Beijing’s bombastic denunciation, as geostrategic sparring goes, this was well advertised and came less than a couple of months after five PLA-Navy warships sailed just as close to the United States’ Aleutian islands in the Bering Sea.

Washington made it known some time in advance that it intended to carry out the operation in the Spratlys. The Kunming, the first of the PLA-Navy’s Type 052D advanced destroyers, has reportedly been trailing the Lassen for weeks and kept a measured distance as the U.S. warship sailed past Subi Reef.

Barring accidents, both navies — and their political bosses — will want to avoid a direct clash in the South China Sea. But that doesn’t mean the face-off between the two powers won’t be ratcheted up by other means.

China will likely continue to strengthen its presence on disputed reefs and islands. President Xi Jinping has said China has no intention to ‘militarize’ the area, but that does not exclude growing coast guard, maritime rescue, fisheries and natural resources facilities and operations there.

For its part, the United States has said it will continue to sail freedom-of-navigation passages. It already routinely flies surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea in airspace that China claims, and its subs operate under those waters. “We will fly, sail, and operate anywhere in the world that international law allows,” a U.S. defense department official told the French news agency AFP.

It has little option to do otherwise if it wants to retain its credibility as a security guarantor for its regional partners as it and Beijing jockey for position in the Pacific. Similarly, Beijing has to challenge every challenge to its maritime claims.

1 Comment

Filed under China-U.S., Defence

South China Sea Radar

Photo taken on July 18, 2012 shows a building on Zhubi Reef of south China Sea. (Xinhua/Wang Cunfu)

For those who asked about the radar station in the background of the picture in our earlier post about a large Chinese fishing fleet arriving at the Zhubi reef in the Nansha Islands (the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands to much of the rest of the world), we offer the close-up photograph above. Beijing says the radar station is intended to be for weather monitoring. The Philippines, which is also building four radar stations in its own waters of the South China Sea that will use communications and surveillance equipment supplied by the U.S., fears China’s station could easily be used for military purposes, too.

China also has a radar station on Yongxing island in the Xishas (Woody Island in the Paracels to the rest of the world), the site of its new administrative capital for the rocks and reefs it claims in the South China Sea. There are also reports it is has built another radar station in the Spratlys at its garrison on Mischief Reef. There is a map of China’s coastal and South China Sea radar stations here.

2 Comments

Filed under China-Southeast Asia

China’s South China Sea Fishing Fleet: How Far Will It Go?

Fishing vessels sail past Zhubi Reef of south China Sea on July 18, 2012. A fleet of fishing vessels from China's southernmost province of Hainan departed from Yongshu Reef on Tuesday night. The fleet arrived at Zhubi Reef at about 10 a.m. Wednesday. The fleet of 30 boats, the largest ever launched from the island province, planned to fish and detect fishery resources near Zhubi Reef. (Xinhua/Wang Cunfu)

The picture above shows two of the 30 vessels that comprise the largest fishing fleet dispatched from Hainan to Zhubi Reef, or Subi Reef, in the Spratly Islands (Nansha to China) in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. The 3-story domed building in the background contains a newly installed radar station and a helipad. It towers over the old wharf that China built to establish its claim to the reef. Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan all say the reef lies within their territorial waters. The reef surrounds a lagoon and is above water only at low tide, which is why the building appears to be in the middle of the sea. The sharp eyed may detect the band of lighter blue looking water above the reef itself. The fleet is being protected by the Yuzheng 310, one of the most advanced patrol ships of the Chinese fishery administration.

The 20-day fishing mission is the latest display of assertion of sovereignty by Beijing in the South China Sea. It comes in the immediate wake of a meeting in Cambodia of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), also attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, that failed to reach consensus over how to deal with China over its territorial claims in those waters. Beijing successfully divided to conquer ASEAN on the issue, leaving its fishermen free to sail ahead (and its oil drillers to drill), further testing the diplomatic limits of the Philippines and Vietnam in particular.

Footnote: The new city that China is creating to administer its South China Sea specs of rock and reef is preparing to elect a 60-member city council and mayor later this year, according to the Southern Metropolis Daily.

3 Comments

Filed under China-Southeast Asia

Beijing Creates A City In The South China Sea

Photo taken on May 5, 2012 shows the sunset scenery on the Yongxing Island, south China's Hainan Province. The Chinese government has raised the administrative status of Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands in the South China Sea from county-level to prefectural-level, according to a Thursday statement. The State Council, or China's cabinet, has approved the establishment of the prefectural-level city of Sansha to administer the three island groups and their surrounding waters, while the government seat will be stationed on Yongxing Island, part of the Xisha Islands, according to a statement from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The council has abolished the county-level Administration Office for Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands, which was also stationed on Yongxing Island, the statement said. (Xinhua/Hou Jiansen)Start re-labeling your South China Sea maps. In the latest ratcheting up of diplomatic pressure on territorial claims to the mineral rich waters, Beijing has raised the municipal status of its local government that administers the disputed area. A new prefectural level city, Sansha, replaces the existing county-level administration office for the Pratas, Paracel and Spratly Islands–the Dongsha, Xisha and Nanshas to China. Sansha, which will be part of Hainan province, will be based on Woody, or Yongxing Island (shown at sunset earlier this year in the photo), one of the Paracel (Xisha) Islands, as was the existing county-level administration.

Vietnam also lays claim to the Paracels and Spratlys. Hanoi formally incorporated them into the country by law earlier this week, a move that prompted formal protests from China, including summoning Hanoi’s ambassador in Beijing. Taiwan like China claims sovereignty over all three, while the Spratlys are also claimed by the Philippines, which is involved in a maritime standoff with Beijing off the Scarborough Shoal. Temporarily ended by bad weather, that looks set to be resuming.

4 Comments

Filed under China-Southeast Asia

China Said Holding 21 Vietnamese Fishermen

China and Vietnam are engaged in a new war of words over disputed territorial waters in the South China Sea. Twenty one Vietnamese fishermen have been detained since March 3 while working off the Paracel Islands (Xisha to the Chinese and Hoang Sa to the Vietnamese) which both countries claim. China says Vietnam’s government should halt the fishing off the Paracels to stop what Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei described as illegal fishing operations by “a large number of Vietnamese fishing ships”. Vietnam insists the fishermen were in Vietnamese waters and should be freed.

Beijing has been beefing up its naval presence in the South China Sea. The Maritime Surveillance Force conducted three times as many missions there last year as in 2008. As well as fishing boats, the vessels were looking for oil and gas drilling, activity off the Spratlys that Beijing also holds to be illegal in what it considers its waters.

As well as China and Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over often overlapping parts of the South China Sea. China’s claim is the largest, covering a big U-shape over most of the sea’s 1.7 million square kilometers, straddling shipping lanes between East Asia and Europe and the Middle East and below which are believed to be rich oil, gas and mineral deposits.

1 Comment

Filed under China-Southeast Asia, China-Vietnam

Diplomonkish Protest

Monks are an inflammatory issue for Beijing right now. Hence Vietnam’s decision to dispatch six of them to take up six-months of residency on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea–China calls them the Nansha Islands–is a doubly provocative act.

The sextet will take charge of Buddhist shrines on the sparsely inhabited islands that were abandoned in the mid-1970s, but which Vietnam has recently refurbished, the BBC reports. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, as well as China and Vietnam, claim sovereignty to parts of the islands to establish their claims over the resource-rich waters around them. The BBC has a map of the competing maritime boundaries here.

No official response from Beijing yet, but if and when it comes it will surely be to reaffirm its  “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands. Late last month it condemned a plan by Manila to invite foreign investors to explore for oil and natural gas in the area in just such terms.

Leave a comment

Filed under China-Vietnam