04 Jul 14. More details emerge on China’s reclamation activities in Spratlys. Satellite imagery analysis suggests that China is not building an artificial island at Fiery Cross (Yongshu) Reef in the Spratly Islands, in contrast to widespread reports in Southeast Asian media. The southeastern end of the reef is home to a Chinese “marine observation
station” that has hosted a Chinese dredger on a number of occasions in the past seven months. IHS Jane’s reported on 19 June that AISLive ship tracking data showed Ting Jing Hao , the dredger responsible for most of the land reclamation at other sites in the Spratlys, had visited Fiery Cross Reef from 7-14 December 2013 and again from 9-18 March 2014. Satellite imagery of the site dated 20 April 2014 shows no dredging had taken place at either end of the reef, suggesting that China is using its facilities there as a base from which to conduct land reclamation at nearby reefs. These reefs include Johnson South Reef, part of the Union Reefs, Cuateron Reef, and Gaven Reefs. AISLive data shows that Ting Jing Hao ‘s visits to these features have lasted for longer than its stays at Fiery Cross, while satellite imagery confirms that major reclamation is under way at Johnson South Reef. Recent imagery of the Cuateron and Gaven reefs is not available. China has had a presence at Fiery Cross Reef since at least 1988. Its facilities there currently include communications equipment, a greenhouse, a wharf, a helipad, and coastal artillery. Images released by the Chinese Ministry of National Defense also show PLA marines in residence, coastal artillery, and a DP-65 anti-diver grenade launcher on the wharf.
Chinese officials have refused to clarify the government’s plans for the
Spratlys, although plans for an island in the South China Sea published by a state-run shipbuilding firm show a runway, aircraft hangars, port, wind turbines, and other facilities. Given the reclamation under way, Johnson South Reef is the most likely candidate for this facility. Speaking at the RUSI International Sea Power Conference 2014 in London on 2 July, Professor Geoffrey Till of King’s College London said that the biggest issue with China’s claims to the South China Sea is that “confusion reigns” over the extent of its claims. This confusion extends to the reclamation under way in the Spratlys, which is occurring at a number of locations but with little or no official justification. Most analysts outside China believe that Beijing is attempting to create ‘facts on the ground’ and to assert better control of this area of the South China Sea: none of the Spratly Islands it controls have an airfield or secure docking, unlike other claimant nations. This move to secure a stronger position is supported by – or supports – the nine-dash line claim, which first appeared in 1947 and was a notable feature of an official map published in late June. Till noted that the issue with the nine-dash line is that it could represent a number of different claims based on historic rights, fishing rights, sovereignty of the sea, or sovereignty of the islands within the dashed line.(Source: IHS Jane’s)
03 Jul 14. ISIL displays captured weapons. The Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) held a parade in the eastern Syrian city of Al-Raqqah on 30 June to show off weapons captured in Iraq and Syria, including a non-operational ‘Scud’ ballistic missile. The launcher was identical to ones found by insurgents when they overran a facility 80km to the southeast in February 2013. The facility consisted of a large shed containing at least three such launchers, two of them with missiles, that had been built on top of the site of the nuclear reactor that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in September 2007. While there was speculation at the time that the missiles could be launched through hatches in the shed’s roof, the shorter-range ‘Scud’ missiles found at the site could not reach Israel from that location and the exhau