10.2.17

New Analysis on China's Militarization of the South China Sea

On Wednesday, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) released its latest analysis of satellite imagery showing China’s militarization of islands in the South China Sea. The imagery shows that China has made progress on building ports, helicopter pads, airplane hangars and runways, as well as air defense systems on several of the 20 locations it claims in the Paracel Islands. The imagery also shows construction materials on many of the other, less developed islands, suggesting that the construction efforts will expand.

The Cipher Take: In the South China Sea, China has territorial claims in three different island groups. The Paracels have been in China’s possession the longest and are closest to the Chinese mainland. For these reasons, they often receive less international attention than Chinese claims to the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. Those claims are more worrisome given China’s rapid buildup since 2013 on the Spratlys and the proximity of Scarborough Shoal to a Filipino military base used by the United States. But while the Paracels often receive less attention, AMTI notes that the Paracel installations have been a bellwether for later construction on the Spratlys. So far, the Trump administration has made clear it does not want the militarization to spread, but it has sent mixed signals on how far it is willing to go to stop it. The Cipher Brief’s February Georgetown Salon Series event will focus on the global implications of China's island-building campaign in the South China Sea, including expert commentary from Admiral Jon Greenert, former Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy and Cipher Brief Network Member, as well as Greg Poling, the Director of the AMTI.

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