China’s new secret weapon : Artificial islands that raise questions.


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For a long time China has been dealing with problems with its maritime neighbors. Since 2014 the relationship between these countries have deteriorated when China started to build artificial islands in order to strengthen their military power.

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To assert its power over the Spratly archipelago, Beijing is creating artificial islands, triggering the anger of Washington. For three months, China has been quietly transforming a reef in an artificial island in order to establish a military base, as reveal  new satellite images.

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This reef is now 3 kilometers long and 300 meters wide. Large enough to acommodate an air and naval base. This area is also claimed by Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan. The exchanges between these countries are being monitored, especially by Washington. A report by the US Congress last week also showed that China’s territorial expansion in this area could be used to find raw materials. This year, China has deployed a large offshore drilling wells, triggering hot negotiations with Vietnam.

This zone, unknown of the general public, is of a major geo strategic interest. It is the crossing point between Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean and allows the communication of Europe and oriental Asia. Near a third of the commercial sea traffic of the world passes there, and 90 % comes from China.

South Korea, Japan and Taiwan use this channel to take more than half their energy resources. If the possible oil reserves seem limited for the moment, those of gas seem on the contrary very important: the zone could contain 13 % of the world reserves, according to the Ministry of Defence.

   “We call on China to stop its construction program of islands and engage in diplomatic efforts to encourage all sides to stop such practices”, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Pool.

Washington speaks of “freedom of the seas” and calls on countries bordering the achipelago to follow a “code of conduct” to ease the growing tensions in this very important area for international trade. These warnings have been ignored by Chinese authorities, who prefer to deal individually with each of these countries. Trade relationships between these nations enables China to hold an advantage over its competitors.

China claims that they have the right to own these islands and that they are an indispensable right for the Chinese people, however the islands are considerably far from their coast and closer to the Philippines and Malaysia.

Japan is now offering maritime support to the countries that are being affected. Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the Seventh Fleet and the top US naval officer in Asia said: “I think allies; partners and friends in the region will look to the Japanese more and more as a stabilizing function”.

Manila is negotiating a possible return of a US base to counter China’s ambitions. But the dstribution of the Spratly area does not necessarily mean an imminent conflict.

Universidad Europea de Madrid

Felipe Baldarena Ribeiro

Maria Esther Mula Forte

María Glez Fontanilla

Michael Diego

Thiago Uchoa Uhli Cortes

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