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Artificial Island Building in the South China Sea, Militarization and Construction in the South China Sea, Reported Facts on the Ground and on the Waters

Fiery Cross Reef: Latest Photos and Developments

Compiled by Rosa Tran et al.

18 November 2016

Fiery Cross Reef is known as “Yongshu Jiao” (永暑礁) in China, “Kagitingan Reef” in the Philippines and “Đá Chữ Thập” in Viet Nam. It is a coral reef located at 09° 33′ 00″ N, 112° 53′ 25″ E, to the north of Cuarteron Reef and along the western edge of the Spratly Islands, adjacent to the main shipping routes through the South China Sea. [1] The reef was named after the Fiery Cross, a British Tea Clipper lost there on 4 March 1860. It was surveyed by Lieutenant J. W. Reed of the HMS Rifleman in 1866, who reported it to be one extensive reef in 1867, and found the apparent wrecks of the Fiery Cross and the Meerschaum.[2]

The reef is an “open spindle-shaped atoll that extends for about 25 km from northeast to southwest, with a width of about 6 km.” An extensive reef flat on the southwest end of the reef surrounds a small closed lagoon in its centre with a maximum depth of 12 metres,[3] is the location of the recent Chinese construction activities.[4]

In its Award of 12 July 2016, the South China Sea Arbitration Tribunal concluded that Fiery Cross Reef, in its natural condition was encumbered by a rock that remained exposed at high tide and is, accordingly, a high-tide feature.[5] According to the Chinese sailing directions, the surface area of this rock exposed at high tide amounts to only two square metres. The high-tide portion of Fiery Cross Reef is minuscule and barren, and obviously incapable, in its natural condition, of sustaining human habitation or an economic life of its own.[6] The Tribunal thus concluded that for purposes of Article 121(3) of the UNCLOS, the high-tide feature at Fiery Cross Reef is legally rock and accordingly shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.[7]

Da chu thap 1988

Fiery Cross Reef in 1988. China started installation of concrete platforms after occupying the reef.

China started occupying the reef since January 31, 1988 after its military ships successfully blocked Vietnam’s army engineers from entering the feature. In 2011, it designated Fiery Cross Reef as ”main command headquarters”. Photos of Fiery Cross Reef showed a heliport, agricultural greenhouses and gun platforms. Images released by the Chinese Ministry of National Defense also showed PLA marines in residence, coastal artillery, and a DP-65 anti-diver grenade launcher on the wharf [8] China started building artificial island on the reef in June 2014. Currently, 677 acres (~2.74 square kilometres) of land have been reclaimed [9]. A 3-km airstrip was completed on January 2016. According to Andrew Erickson, the airstrip is long enough to support operations of most major military aircraft. In China’s case: a wide variety of fighter, electronic intercept, airborne early warning and control, and tanker aircraft.[10] Fiery Cross would also be capable of landing and deploying the Chinese Shenyang J-11 fourth-generation fighter, using runway requirements derived from a Russian Su-27 fighter,[11] which would be capable of combat operations within 870 miles of the reef.[12]

In the beginning week of January 2016, China conducted first test landings of civil aircrafts on the airstrip, drawing strong protests from Viet Nam, which also claims sovereignty over the reef. [13]

On 3 May 2016, China Central Television (CCTV) released the first footage showing the completed airport, residential buildings, and construction sites for a hospital and marine centre.

Satellite imagery published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) on 3 June 2016 shows constructions of fighter-jet hangars at the southern end of the runway and is well-advanced along the middle of the airstrip. At the northern end, a final set of hangars was also being under construction. “The number, size, and construction make it clear these are for military purposes — and they are the smoking gun that shows China has every intention of militarizing the Spratly Islands,” Gregory Poling, director of AMTI told Business Insider.[14]

The imagery also reveals several unidentified hexagonal structures that started to appear in May. The formations are always oriented toward the sea.[15]

fiery-cross-reef

In the South China Sea Arbitration Tribunal’s view: “while China has constructed an installation and engaged in significant land reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef, this is only possible through dredging and the elevation of the portion of the reef platform that submerges at high tide. China’s presence is necessarily dependent on outside supplies, and there is no evidence of any human activity on Fiery Cross Reef prior to the beginning of China’s presence in 1988. As with the other high-tide features that have been the subject of construction and reclamation work, the status of a feature for the purpose of Article 121(3) is to be assessed on the basis of its natural condition, prior to human modification. China’s construction on Fiery Cross Reef, however extensive, cannot elevate its status from rock to fully entitled island.”[16]

The tribunal also concluded, with respect to the protection and preservation of the marine environment in the South China Sea, that China’s land reclamation and construction of artificial islands, installations, and structures at Fiery Cross Reef, as well as at Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef (North), Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef have caused severe, irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem.[17]

Below are the latest imageries of Fiery Cross Reef released by Digital Globe on 10 November 2016.[18]

fiery-cross-reef-overview

Overview of Fiery Cross Reef

fiery-cross-01

A closeup of the Fiery Cross Reef

fiery-cross-02

A closeup of the Fiery Cross Reef

References:

[1] The South China Sea Arbitration Award of 12 July 2016: p. 121. An electronic copy is available at https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/2016/07/12/pca-press-release-pca-case-no-2013-19-the-south-china-sea-arbitration-the-republic-of-the-philippines-v-the-peoples-republic-of-china/

[2] Findlay, Alexander George. “A Directory for the Navigation of the Indian Archipelago, China, and Japan” (2nd ed.). London: Richard Holmes Laurie (1878): p. 625. An electronic copy is available at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3221454-A-Directory-for-the-Navigation-of-the-Indian.html

[3] Yu, K.‐F., Zhao, J.‐X., Collerson, K. D., Shi, Q., Chen, T.‐G., Wang, P.‐X., et al. (2004) “Storm cycles in the last millennium recorded in Yongshu Reef, southern South China Sea,” Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 210: 89‐100. Cited in Sebastian C.A. Ferse, Peter Mumby and Selina Ward, “Assessment of the potential environmental consequences of construction activities on seven reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea,” Independent Expert Report for the South China Sea Arbitration: p. 17

[4] Sebastian C.A. Ferse, Peter Mumby and Selina Ward, “Assessment of the potential environmental consequences of construction activities on seven reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea,” Independent Expert Report for the South China Sea Arbitration: p. 17

[5] The South China Sea Arbitration Award of 12 July 2016: p. 146.

[6] The South China Sea Arbitration Award of 12 July 2016: p. 234

[7] The South China Sea Arbitration Award of 12 July 2016: p. 203

[8] “China’s artificial island building: Fiery Cross Reef,” South China Sea Research 10 November 2014: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/chinas-land-reclamation-fiery-cross-reef/ (accessed on 17 November 2016)

[9] Fiery Cross Reef Tracker, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiativehttps://amti.csis.org/fiery-cross-reef/ (accessed on 17 November 2016)

[10] Andrew S. Erickson, “Runway to the Danger Zone? Lengthening Chinese Airstrips May Pave Way for South China Sea ADIZ,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 24 April 2015.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Airpower in the South China Sea,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative 14 January 2016: https://amti.csis.org/airstrips-scs/ (accessed on 17 November 2016)

[13] “Letter Dated 7 January 2016 from the Permanent Representative of Viet Nam to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General,” An electronic copy is available at https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/letter-dated-7-january-2016-from-the-permanent-representative-of-viet-nam-to-the-united-nations-addressed-to-the-secretary-general/  (accessed on 17 November 2016)

[14] Amanda Macias, “No one knows what these hexagonal structures the Chinese keep building in the South China Sea are for,” Business Insider 11 August 2016: www.businessinsider.com/csis-satellite-hexagonal-south-china-sea-2016-8 (accessed on 17 November 2016)

[15] Amanda Macias, “Look at these satellite images and you’ll know that ‘China has every intention of militarizing the Spratly Islands,’ Business Insider 27 September 2016: www.businessinsider.com/csis-satellite-image-south-china-sea-2016-8/#mischief-reef-1 (accessed on 17 November 2016)

[16] The South China Sea Arbitration Award of 12 July 2016: p. 234

[17] The South China Sea Arbitration Award of 12 July 2016

[18] Eoin Blackwell, “Stunning Aerial Photos Show Extent Of China’s Developments In The South China Sea,” The Huffington Post 16 November 2016: www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/11/15/stunning-aerial-photos-show-extent-of-chinas-developments-in-th/ (accessed on 17 November 2016)

Related articles:

Artificial Island Building in the South China Sea: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/events-and-analyses/artificial-island-building-in-the-south-china-sea/

Militarization and Construction in the South China Sea: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/events-and-analyses/militarization-and-construction-in-the-south-china-sea/

Marine Environment issues: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/events-and-analyses/marine-environment-issues/

Reported Facts on the Ground and on the Waters: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/reported-facts-on-the-ground-and-on-the-waters/

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