The Chinese Militarization of the Spratly Islands

In a word, what is going on in the South China Sea is shocking. At the same time that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is building modern aircraft carriers, China is creating bases to project military power far from the mainland. Satellite imagery offers a startling record of this transformation from submerged reef to island military base.

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Shipsearcher staff came to this realization in roundabout way – we were looking for PLAN frigates and heard one had been hanging around some place called Mischief Reef. This isolated spot in the Spratly Islands disputed territories went from being a reef to an island fortress in a few years of feverish construction:

Mischief Reef 2004 DISPUTEMischief Reef 2018 DISPUTE.jpgHere and at several other sites, dredging and dumping fill radically transformed mostly submerged chains of reefs into new territory, which was quickly militarized – complete with port facilities, substantial airstrips, and missile defences. A new shipsearcher page explores the history of PRC island building, and compares it with Vietnamese, Philippine, Taiwanese, and Malaysian efforts to stake claims on this same patch of disputed ocean real estate. We hope it will encourage readers to further investigate island development and overlapping claims to territory!