What Is China Building in the SCS?
China is building hexagonal structures on the man-made reefs, but no one knows what they’re for.
Unidentified hexagonal structures are quickly being built at four locations on each islet—always oriented toward the sea. Work on these structures began in May at Fiery Cross and in July at Subi and Mischief. Each of the features is also now home to a set of three towers, one of which is larger than the other two. The towers do not have domes that would indicate radar or other sensitive arrays, and their location is not consistent, at least in relation to the runway or other infrastructure, across the three islets. These structures do not appear at any of China’s other outposts in the Paracels or Spratlys.
The frenzied expansion by China into the reefs and shallows of the area is evocative of a modern day Riddle of the Sands. Something is going on which means a great deal to the Chinese, but what is it really? It is a mystery without detectives, with no Davies nor Carruthers. No one in the Obama administration seems really interested in finding out what the fortified island push is where no one ever runs out of time except maybe Social Security and public sector pensions. Rosa Brooks, a former civilian adviser to the Pentagon recently captured our state of distraction when she said: ‘we have no idea what war is’.
The best analysis is the simplest: China is investing heavily in the South China Sea. Where property rights are not clearly defined by law, they are defined by custom and behavior. China is acting as if it owns the South China Sea.