China's Military Activity on Spratly Islands

Fast militarization of the Spratlys seen from space

Since 2013 China has been building artificial islands in the South China Sea, causing a major upset on the international political scene. The Chinese maritime ambitions in the South China Sea represent a longstanding territorial struggle in the region. The purpose of the Chinese activity is to establish the Chinese control over the region and further strengthen Chinese presence in the South China Sea.

Following satellite imagery, accessed via Spaceknow Analytics, shows Chinese activity at three locations in the South China Sea — at the Hughes Reef, the Johnson South Reef and the Cuarteron Reef.

The Hughes Reef lies in the centre of the Union Banks in the Spratly Islands. These satellite images show that China built a platform on a reclaimed land in less than one year. Atop of the platform China has been constructing a large military facility. One can also see several ships next to the platform as well as a dredger. All Imagery Ⓒ DigitalGlobe, Courtesy of Spaceknow

Although the Spratly Islands are controlled by China, the ownership of the Spratlys is disputed by five other nations — the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Only recently the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled against China’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea. The arbitration case was filed by the Philippines in 2013 and the status of the Spratly Islands was one of its major issues.

These satellite images show a section of the Johnson South Reef, located in the middle of South China Sea. The image shows a military facility constructed on a reclaimed land with a mooring place and a ship. All Imagery Ⓒ DigitalGlobe, Courtesy of Spaceknow

Why is the region important?

The South China Sea is a major transit point for maritime trade and shipping. In fact, huge amounts of energy supplies and oil pass through the area as well as almost a half of the world’s merchant fleet.

Not only that the control over the South China Sea would give China an immense power on the international political scene but also any conflict in the area would be devastating to the world economy, influencing the worldwide stock and consumer prices.

This satellite image shows a section of the Cuarteron Reef, located in the London Reefs, on the Western side of the Spratly Islands. The imagery detects construction works on a large military facility — it has been indicated that it is a supply platform and a reef fortress. All Imagery Ⓒ DigitalGlobe, Courtesy of Spaceknow
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