|Vittorio Hernandez |||Feb 20, 2015 10:40 AM EST|
Notwithstanding the protest by smaller Asian nations over the swift pace that China has been constructing facilities in disputed islands in the South China Sea, Beijing again flexed its military muscle by claiming a seventh reef.
The news of another China claim comes from the Philippines, one of the Southeast Asian nations that is contesting ownership of the group of islands in the key maritime route.
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News of China's expansion came just a day after the military magazine, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, published satellite photos of infrastructure development on Hughes Reef, a 75,000 square meters of land that China claimed in August.
Commenting on China's power trip in the region, a Western diplomat notes that the reclamations are larger and more ambitious than previously thought, and concedes that "On many different levels it's going to be exceptionally difficult to counter China in the South China Sea as this develops," quotes Reuters.
Based on previous information and the newly published satellite images, aside from Hughes, China has also built facilities on Fiery Cross, Gaven, Cuarteron, Eldad and Mischief Reefs.
The artificial islands are expected to benefit China not only as a refueling depot for its warships but also a re-supply and rest stop for its fishing vessels and coast guard, points out Carl Thayer, a South China Sea expert from the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.
There is also the possibility that China would use the artificial islands as helipads to operate its anti-submarine unit, prompting Zhang Baohui, a mainland defense expert at the University in Hong Kong, to state, "This is less about politics and legal issues and more about security, China's perspective."
Other analysts believe the reefs would provide Beijing an air defense identification zone about the vital and strategic South China Sea.
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