Despite the protests from the neighbouring countries, China, for a long time had a staunch desire to complete its construction of artificial reefs in the South China Sea. Recently, satellite images have shown that China’s military aircraft have been spotted landing at the Fiery Cross Reef, on one of China’s manmade islands, situated in the north of the internationally disputed sea.
A defense intelligence group, Jane’s Information Group, forewarned that the sighting could be signs that the PLANAF (People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force) is starting to use it as a base of operations. Sean O’Connor, the principal analyst at Jane’s, said, “Two sightings of surveillance aircraft within a month could indicate that the PLANAF is beginning to periodically base aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef”.
The recent construction of bunkers on some of the islands indicates China preparing to protect against air or missile strikes, bringing in front the prospect of a conflict that could spark World War 3. China has reclaimed huge swathes of land along with carrying out high-level building work at Fiery Cross Reef, including an airport, which would facilitate at least three surveillance aircraft and others could be parked in open.
Fiery Reef is the largest and most advanced, has been completely transformed by China, from three reefs in 2009 to a major military installation today. Fiery Cross is now a major shelter to a military garrison, an airfield, and a naval base.
The area of the South China Sea has been a flashpoint between China and the US recently. Two US-flagged vessels, a USS Barry guided-missile destroyer, and a USS Bunker Hill aircraft carrier sailed through the island as part of a series of naval freedom of navigation and due to this action, though Washington denied, the US was accused by the Chinese military to have ventured into its occupied water area. Not the only US, but also the other five nations including Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Taiwan also remain in a rival relationship with China taking into account the Fiery Cross Reef.