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Described by many as “island fortresses”, China has engulfed the South China Sea with man-made island bases and has been accused of forming them specifically for military purposes. The key issue for other Asian neighbours is the placement of these bases in archipelagos that are under sovereignty claims by multiple countries. The Spratly Islands are claimed by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei – and have become the cornerstone of China’s quest for dominance in the region.
Some photographs showed cargo ships and supply vessels, which The Philippine Daily Inquirer said appeared to be delivering construction materials to the China-controlled islands.
Others show runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multistorey buildings that China has built on reefs.
The moving of its aircraft carriers airstrips and weapons into the region has earned the cluster of bases the nickname: “The Great Wall of Sand.”
The bases also appear to boast sophisticated technology and developed resources, with communication antennae, underground petrol, oil and lubricant storage tanks and control towers.
The intensifying militarisation of the South China Sea led to a stark warning from Republican US Senator James Inhofe in January 2019.
He said: “It’s like you’re preparing for World War 3.
“You’re talking to our allies over there and you wonder whose side they’re going to be on.”
He said he was “concerned” that the message was not coming across after China used a media blitz to present a host of illegal, artificial islands as “search and rescue centres”.
Inhofe believes the US sat back and watched as China staked its claim on the contested reefs and rocks, and did nothing as it turned them into artificial islands bristling with weapons and fortifications.
Washington’s efforts to establish control in the region has seen US forces occupy bases of their own.
In 2016, the US reached an agreement with the Philippines to build five military installations located throughout the country.
The base which infuriated Beijing more than any other was the Antonio Bautista Air Base on western Palawan island, which faces the hotly disputed Spratly islands directly.
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The key motivations for Beijing in its audacious water claims is the lucrative shipping lanes and trading ports that make up the South China Sea, provoking President Xi Jinping to enforce a controversial Nine-Dash Line demarcation of what China deems to be its territory.
The demarcation enforces a claim over all of the island clusters in the region and 90 percent of the South China Sea as a whole but is deemed illegal by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).
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