Why Did China Build Its Artificial Islands So Fast to Incur Higher Costs

I mentioned in my post yesterday that building the artificial islands on such a large scale at such high speed costs much more as in doing so, China has to build much more dredging vessels and supporting equipment at huge costs.

According to Chinese navy’s plan as revealed by qianzhan.com in February 2014, only two artificial islands will be built respectively on Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reefs. That on Fiery Cross Reef will serve as a military base to control the South China Sea as the reef is located in the middle of the sea area claimed by China. The artificial island on Mischief Reef will be built for development of fishery and fish farming for recovery of the huge artificial island construction costs estimated at $5 billion.

The navy planned to build the two artificial islands in ten years, but actually, China built seven artificial islands in one and a half years. Among the islands, the largest on Mischief Reef with an area of 5.52 square kilometers was built in six months. A total of 32 dredging vessels were used in the land reclamation.

It is understandable that in order to avoid US and rival claimants’ opposition, preparations shall be made fast and in secret and the construction shall be fast but shall it be so fast as to incur much higher costs?

Threat of US Military Imposition of Hague Arbitration Award
Chinese leaders were aware that the arbitration court at the Hague will certainly give an arbitration award very unfavorable for China as it was controlled by the West and that the US would send its aircraft carrier battle groups to force China to accept the arbitration award.

That would be a repetition of US practice in the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. At that time, Chinese warplanes were outdated Soviet models no match to the advanced fighter jets on US aircraft carriers. Under US military threat, China had to substitute peaceful offensive for military threat in dealing with Taiwan.

Since then China has stepped up its military modernization. It has purchased advanced warplanes from Russia and learnt to make similar advanced warplanes on its own. In addition it has developed DF-21D ballistic and advanced cruise anti-ship missiles and flotillas of Type 022 missile fast boats to deal with US aircraft carriers. US aircraft carriers may be attacked by volleys of China’s DF-21D missiles if they go within the 1500km-range of DF-21D. If they send their fighter/bombers to attack China outside DF-21D’s range, their fighter/bombers are unable to reach Chinese coast as their range is much shorter than 1,500km. They cannot use aerial refueling to lengthen their fighter/bombers’ range as China’s fighter jets can easily shoot down US warplanes when they are refueling.

However, the US has lots of attack nuclear submarines able to fire their submarine-launched cruise missiles at Chinese homeland from the South China Sea, where the water is 1,000 meters deep for US submarines to operate freely.

That was precisely what military experts were thinking about at that time.

US media The National Interest’s defense editor Dave Majumdar’s article “China’s Greatest Fear: U.S. Navy ‘Cruise Missile Carriers’” on October 21, 2005 precisely reflects such a military idea.

According to the article, US Navy shall build additional Ohio Replacement Program submarines to serve as cruise missile carriers for attacking Chinese homeland as it is too risky for US aircraft carriers to go within the range of China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles to enable its fighter jets to attack China due to limited range of US carrier-based warplanes.

Other US military experts are also of the opinion that US aircraft carriers are vulnerable to the saturate attack of not only DF-21Ds but also anti-ship cruise missiles; therefore, they believe that the US shall use submarine-launched cruise missiles to conduct first strike to neutralize Chinese land-based defense so that US carriers my come near China to conduct the second strike.

Chinese strategists certainly know that even US existing attack nuclear submarines can launch more than one thousand cruise missiles to conduct the first strike from the South China Sea. As US military interference with China’s disputes with its neighbors, especially the Philippines, seemed imminent, China had to build up a network of artificial islands to deploy an anti-submarine network to detect and track US submarines and have anti-submarine aircrafts and helicopters deployed on the islands to destroy US submarines when they have attacked China. It is precisely due to such defense urgency that China made such huge investment to build artificial islands especially quickly.

Now, with those artificial islands, China is able to deploy enough anti-submarine facilities and firepower no matter how many ballistic missile submarines the US will build and deploy in the South China Sea. They constitute effective deterrence to US submarine attack of Chinese homeland.

As for surface fleets, a US study believes that a floating island together with two aircraft carriers is equivalent to 5 aircraft carriers. The three airports on three artificial islands in the Spratly Islands will be equivalent to at lease 9 aircraft carriers as they may support and supplement one another. Moreover, fixed artificial islands can carry much heavier loads than floating ones; therefore, they may have even greater firepower. For example, heavy fighter jets, fighter/bombers and bombers can take off from the long runway on the three islands to dominate the airspace and sink all US warships even without the help of the anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles from China’s southeastern coast.

As a result, in a war between China and the US, South China Sea will become forbidden area to US navy.

China Is Resolved Even to Fight a War to safeguard Its Rights and Interests in the South China Sea
However, in spite of US pivot to Asia, people in the region watching China’s actions in pressing its claim to disputed South China Sea rocks and shoals have no illusions that China will be deterred by the United States. They have now realized the reality of the asymmetry of respective Chinese and U.S. geopolitical interests. China’s interest in the South China Sea is political and strategic. Politically China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea is aimed at asserting sovereignty to reverse China’s century of being bullied by foreign powers. If under US pressure Chinese leaders had waived China’s claims that they have inherited from Chinese ancestors, they would have been regarded by Chinese people as submitting to the bully of a foreign power like China’s previous corrupt and weak governments. They would thus have lost Chinese people’s support and been unable to rule China.

The huge costs China is willing to incur in building its artificial islands indicate China’s above-mentioned necessity and determination to safeguard its core interests in the South China Sea. However, US military seems not to understand China’s stance. It sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to force China to accept Hague arbitration award that deprives China of all its rights and interests in the South China Sea, China responded with large-scale military drills and combat air patrols of the South China Sea. China was to fight the US for its core rights and interests but the US did not want to fight as it has no core rights or interests in the South China Sea. If it had fought a war with China, American boys would have shed their blood for the interests of the Philippines and Vietnam. No US leaders or politicians are so stupid as to advocate such a war.

As a result, former US President Obama’s pivot to Asia proved to be a complete failure as he failed to be prepared for China’s hardline response to US military pressure. Obama’s successor Trump seems to have given up the pivot. He has already withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s economic pivot to Asia. In addition, he has not intensified US military operations near China. Instead, the US switched to its new Indo-Pacific strategy to ally with India, Japan and Australia to contain China.

Chinese leaders showed their wisdom in developing and conducting the defense strategy in establishing its Sansha prefecture-level city. When Sansha has grown into a true prefecture-level city, US warships will be sailing within the city when it patrols the South China Sea. They will thus be in a very dangerous position in sailing within a Chinese city. The establishment of Sansha City has thus turned the South China Sea into China’s lake and put an end to US hegemony in the South China Sea.

However, though China now has full control of the South China Sea and is strong enough to exploit all the natural resources there alone without sharing with any rival claimants, China is willing to share the resources with them through bilateral talks.

In spite of that, Southeast Asian elite fear China’s rise.

Article by Chan Kai Yee

7 Comments on “Why Did China Build Its Artificial Islands So Fast to Incur Higher Costs”

  1. […] “The Conundrum of China’s Massive Island Building in South China Sea” – “Why Did China Build Its Artificial Islands So Fast to Incur Higher Costs” (Tiananmen&#8… […]


  2. Chris Duncan says:

    Why are you so mentally lazy as to call the Chinese man made islands by their English names even though you feel strongly they are Chinese territority?

    It is not new to remark that if you apply English names in your writings or speech, you are implicitly recognizing these islands as not Chinese but Western. A rather defeatist approach to your stand. Much like your Chinese saying – how you say – of lifting a rock only to drop it on your own foot.

    Being tardy does not help your cause. Fiery Cross Reef is Yongxing island. Mischief Reef is Meiji islands.


    • Joseph says:

      I would agree that we should get used to calling this place in their original.Chinese name, like Diaoyu Island. The English names were used less than 100 years anyway, and only Westerners use them. However the early reportings by Western often indicated that the Chinese-named islands and English-named islands were different ones, as the result the SCS islands were doubled in size. Like it or not, since the WWII the region was heavily Americanized, as the result, people in the region would speak English as the bridging languages instead of using Chinese or Malay as the universal languages like in the past. Therefore, it would be easier for some to use their English name. It is understandable, after all we are not petty people who squabble like Western feminist over little details. Some Western journalists actually recognized the legitimacy of these name as they were referred in English as the language not spoken in the region, so they introduced Phillipines names to ‘legitimacized’ it. However Filipino language was not commonly spoken in the region either. It caused confusion among journalist in the region. There’s reason why Malay, not Tagalog, is the universal language in the region. In the future, when Chinese influence is finally fully restored in the region, people may get used to using Chinese name in the region, but for any convenient name is acceptable. After all, it was Obama, the president of the United States of America, who started this problem. Would he and his American henchmen use Chinese names in the details? I do not think so. The Westerners are doing very huge and detailed effort to erase any trace of anything Chinese. With the regional regimes were under their control in the past, they might seem to have succeeded. But we survived. They might have erased any Chinese terms in the past, but we knew that under whatever name it was, it was Chinese. When the time becomes favorable again, we will restore it’s Chinese origin. After all, unlike the Roman Empire, the Chinese was never really gone. It will come back. A century of Western influence may be a long time in a person’s life time, but it is actually a tiny dot in the time span of milenia.


  3. Steve says:

    China took a calculated risk and against all odds succeeded beyond expectations. Seven engineered islands in less than two years. It was a phenomenal task. China was under tremendous pressure from US and allies in Asia and EU. Considering China’s internal problems of corruption and scandal among it’s military elite, inadequate military reform including US 400 military bases encirclement of China, PCA award – China has come out on top and unscatched.

    With recent development of China’s advanced weaponry, warplanes, warships, detection technologies and military reform – the SCS will be China’s fortified lake. The US has no chance of instigating another Asian War. China has invested billions of resources, only peace and prosperity will prevail in the SCS under China’s control.


  4. Dr Wu Mao says:

    Good points. Beijing should take heed. India is a different animal. Village thugs can’t think. They only understand and respect force. If push comes to a shove, I hope Beijing do no take half measures again. This time, drive all the way to Delhi, arrest the entire BJP cabinet and any other uniform and non uniformed officials and charge them in a criminal court. Set up military bases in india and control their government to ensure they do not build up their military again. Any appointed PM and cabinet members have to seek Beijing’s approval for appointment, and can be removed at Beijing’s discretion. India will have to pay hefty reparations to China for starting the war and causing all the damage and deaths. No democracy for elections for india.

    As for the Yanks, let’s hope “not-so-bright” Trump is aware that interfering militarily in the South China Sea means war even if his cruise missiles fired from his submarines do not carry nukes. Whether they attack the reclaimed island lands or strategic targets on the mainland, Guam will the first target followed by US bases in Okinawa, Japan and South Korea. Japan and South Korea have a choice – Whether to get involved in a physical war or keep aside. The war is between China and the Yankees. The best development would be for all East Asian countries coming together to challenge and fight the Yanks. The Yanks have caused enough unwarranted deaths in East Asia in the short history of their bloody presence here and East Asia must say “no” if “butcher” Trump wants to start another “killing fields” here. East Asia must unite against the Yankee military “monster”.


    • Dr Wu Mao says:

      “If push comes to a shove” means “if irrational india attacks China again”.

      By physical invading or crossing the LOC in an armed manner and killing Chinese border guards in order to grab territory, india would be deemed unequivocally as an enemy of China. This would be an extremely serious matter. China’s armed forces must therefore battle to not just take back its territory but defeat and destroy india in order to win the war. Otherwise it will rebuild and rearm its military to attack again. War has to be taken to it its logical conclusion. There is no half measures involved.

      See what happened in 1962? India had not been taught a sufficiently stern lesson to ensure it would never attempt such opportunistic war mongering behaviour again. Pussy footing with your enemies only serves to encourage them to repeat their war like behaviour again. For incorrigible thugs, you may even have to bomb them to stone age if need be.