South China Sea: Beijing setting up full-blown military bases as regional tensions rocket

China 'possibly building new military bases' suggests expert

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The South China Sea has been at the centre of an international dispute between China and several other states in the Western Pacific region for decades. Beijing adopted an increasingly confrontational attitude to defend its claims of sovereignty, repeatedly sparking fears of an international clash due to the US playing a prominent role as an ally in the area. China this week refuelled fears of a conflict after satellite imagery showed the artificial atoll of Mischief Reef is now being equipped with additional military capabilities.

Asked about Beijing’s recent activities, Dr Jay Batongbacal told ANC: “They’re basically adding on survey lens equipment, apparently radars – there’s already a lot of them in the reef in the first place.

“The addition of new radars appears to indicate they’re really expanding the capabilities of this artificial island.

“And then the fact it is continuing despite everything that has been going on in the rest of the world, it really indicates the intention of China to really fully develop these artificial islands into full-blown military bases.”

One of the satellite images showed a 16-metre permanent cylindrical structure is currently under development on Mischief Reef – the sign of a possible antennae mount structure.

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Geospatial imagery analyst Simularity reported signs of radar structures being added on began to appear as early as October 2020.

A report from the organization said: “The concrete structure may have undergone additional internal construction between November 23 and February 1, 2021.

Mischief Reef has been at the centre of Chinese expansion in the South China Sea since the mid-1990s, when Beijing built the first structures on stilts under claims of needed to provide fishermen with shelter.

News of the new builds on the atoll prompted the Philippines’ Department for National Defense to verify the veracity of the report before commenting on the potential addition of new structures.

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Fishermen group Pamalakaya denounced the alleged construction, citing a decision of an international arbitral tribunal awarding Manila with sovereign rights over the territory.

Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said: “While the whole world was focused on combating the global pandemic, China was working overtime for the completion of its facilities in our marine territory.

“We vehemently denounce this callous move of China which never stopped amid a global emergency situation brought about by the pandemic. This is a high-handedness and outright disregard of our marine resources and exclusive economic zone.”

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On Friday, Ned Price, US state department spokesperson, said: “The US joins the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan and other countries in expressing concern with China’s recently enacted coast guard law.

“Allowing the coast guard to destroy other countries’ economic structures and to use force in defending China’s maritime claims in disputed areas, strongly implies this law could be used to intimidate the PRC’s maritime neighbours.”

Last month, the US issued a warning to Beijing to stop intimidating Taiwan after Chinese warplanes flew into the island’s air defence zone on consecutive days.

The Chinese forces also simulated attacks on a nearby US aircraft carrier.

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