China has completed its construction of the airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef. This is the second new airstrip on disputed islands of South China Sea after the one constructed on the Woody Island.
Fiery Cross Reef is a part of the Spartly Islands, which China seeks to claim as its own against competing claims by Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia. China has been conducting works on a number of islets and reefs in order to artificially increase their territory to use it for various facilities, including, crucially, airstrips. These airstrips can then be used for military air patrols of the disputed waters of South China Sea.
China’s sovereignty over South China Sea would mean its control over a crucial waterway of global importance, seriously strengthening China’s geopolitical position. That is why Chinese claims of such sovereignty are resisted not just by countries like Vietnam and Philippines which would be affected in terms of territorial loss, but also by key maritime powers invested in security of Asian sea routes – U.S., Japan and India. Chinese air bases in the midst of the disputed waters constitute a serious step towards actual enforcement of Chinese territorial claims. This is the road which will eventually lead either to China’s unilateral success if the opposing powers don’t dare to draw and enforce a red line, or a potentially dangerous confrontation if they do.