China has reclaimed more than 1,295 hectares of land in the South China Sea, but the nation’s focus has shifted to developing and weaponizing the artificial islands so it would have greater control over the maritime region without resorting to armed conflict, according to a new Pentagon report.
In its most detailed assessment to date of China’s island-building program, the US Department of Defense said three of the land features in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) now have almost 3,048m of runways and large ports in various stages of construction.
It has also excavated deep channels; created and dredged harbors; and constructed communications, logistics and intelligence gathering facilities, the report said.
The report said that the accelerated building effort does not give China any new territorial rights. However, it said the airfields, ship facilities, surveillance and weapons equipment would allow China to significantly enhance its long-term presence in the South China Sea.
The 1,295 hectares only represent China’s reclamation in the Spratlys and does not include its building in the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), further northwest, including contested Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島), in its estimates. China has deployed anti-aircraft missiles to Woody Island.
The Pentagon declined to release details on the amount of increased reclamation in the Paracels or to provide a more concrete estimate of the increase in building on the Spratly Islands.