Fiery Cross Reef or North West Investigator Reef (9°35’N., 112°54’E.) lies 46nm northwest from Maralie Reef. China started occupying the reef since January 31, 1988 after its military ships successfully blocked Vietnam’s army engineers from entering the feature (1).
Based on Robert Beckman and Clive Schofield’ analysis of satellite imagery and previous studies, it can be interpreted that the nature form of Fiery Cross Reef is not an island defined by UNCLOS. It is also unclear whether it can be classified as rock or submerged feature.
China designated Fiery Cross Reef in 2011 as ”main command headquarters”. Photos of Fiery Cross Reef show a heliport, agricultural greenhouses and gun platforms. Images released by the Chinese Ministry of National Defense also show PLA marines in residence, coastal artillery, and a DP-65 anti-diver grenade launcher on the wharf (2)
International media reported that China started building artificial island on Fiery Cross in June 2014. The artificial island currently measures one square km, making it the largest island in the Spratly Islands. According to Taiwan media citing a Chinese military expert, the island would eventually measure 2 square km in area (3).
According to Article 60(8) of UNCLOS, however, “Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf.”
Below are photos showing the development of the reef since 1988.
Update on November 22, 2014
(1) Vietnamese report on Spratlys situation in 1988: http://www.thanhnien.com.vn/pages/20141020/giu-truong-sa-truoc-tham-vong-ba-quyen-ky-4-nhung-cuoc-doi-dau-cang-thang.aspx
(2) More details emerge on China’s reclamation activities in Spratlys. IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly 04 July 2014: http://www.janes.com/article/40335/more-details-emerge-on-china-s-reclamation-activities-in-spratlys
(3) Mainland Launches Land Reclamation Project in the South China Sea: http://www.taiwannpfnews.org.tw/english/page.aspx?type=article&mnum=112&anum=15215
Sources of photos: