FACTS ON THE GROUND

Trump is right, China has built a massive military complex in the South China Sea—and a soccer field

Obsession
The Sea
Obsession
The Sea

Donald Trump earned notoriety during the US presidential campaign for his Twitter rants against political opponents. Now that he’s on his way to the White House, he’s got bigger targets—like China.

This weekend he tweeted that China is building a “massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea.”

China has for years been building military and other facilities atop real and artificial islands in the vital waterway, through which more than $5 trillion in trade passes every year. Analysts fear Beijing could turn the sea into a “Chinese lake” that it controls, complete with an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) requiring foreign aircraft to notify Chinese authorities in advance of flights. China claims nearly the entire sea as its own, despite an international tribunal invalidating that claim in July.

But China has been careful to also incorporate civilian elements into its island-building, in order to deflect accusations that its actions are strictly military in nature. An example of this is seen on Fiery Cross Reef in the sea’s Spratly archipelago. It’s hard to think of it as a “reef” anymore because so much has been built atop it in recent years, including a hospital, a runway, and a farm with hundreds of livestock including pigs, chicken, and geese.

Today (Dec. 5) the People’s Liberation Army Daily posted pictures on Chinese social media of other developments from around the artificial island. One photo showed a soccer field, complete with a game in progress.

A football field on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea.
Game on at Fiery Cross Reef. (PLA Daily/Weibo)

Others showed the hospital and lighthouse.

Outside the hospital on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea.
Outside the hospital. (PLA Daily/Weibo)
The lighthouse on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea.
The lighthouse on Fiery Cross Reef. (PLA Daily/Weibo)
Inside the hospital on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea.
Inside the hospital. (PLA Daily/Weibo)

The images complemented an article in the PLA Daily (link in Chinese) with an impressive aerial shot of the soccer field, as well as as more details about the island’s facilities. The hospital, for instance, has 10 departments, and the soccer field is complemented by two basketball courts. The dorms have TV sets, washing machines, and air conditioning, and residents have access to 4G cellular networks.

Fiery Cross Reef is just one example of China’s building activities in the sea, which has prompted other claimant nations in the sea to boost their own construction projects. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative tracks developments with satellite images. China’s projects dwarf those of the other nations.

As a real estate developer, at least, Trump must surely be impressed.

Additional reporting by Zheping Huang.

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