While the United States is staging a drill with South Korea over the Korean Peninsula, there is another show of power in the area. China for the first time confirmed that it had deployed jets to patrol the disputed waters and islands in the South China Sea.
The Chinese seem to be posed to make their holdings in the Parcel Island chain well known as they deployed a series of J-11B jet fighters. This is the first time that China has confirmed that they have fighter jets stationed in hangers on Yongxing island.
Footage of the J-11B jets flying in and out of Yongxing island was broadcast on the Chinese controlled China Central Television (CCTV). The purpose according to many was an act of propaganda to show their power in the area. According to a report about the video footage:
“…the presence of the bombers showcases China’s improving air and sea control in the South China Sea. Breaking down the footage, there appears to be more than one J-11B aircraft participating in sophisticated nautical combat exercises around Yongxing island. At the end of the video, there is evidence that the creation of infrastructure to support the aircraft was built in the form of specialty hangars.”
Both the islands and the water of the South China Sea are largely disputed as far as which country holds their control. Beyond the foothold that China seems to be digging into the islands, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei all make some claim of rights to the area.
Before the recent examples of the fighters taking off and landing in the area, China was slow to station its aircraft on any of the islands. There are incredibly harsh conditions in the area that make storing any type of machinery nearly impossible. The area is known for extreme temperatures and high levels of humidity which would quickly damage sensitive aircraft.
To combat the environmental issues is the area, China invested a considerable amount of time and resources to build highly technical hangers for the fighters. This was done by using “…thermostabilized hangars which boost the jet fighters’ durability and resistance to the island’s humidity and high temperatures.”
The development of these unique hangers on Yongxing island is crucial to establish China as the leader in the area. In recent months the Chinese government has focused its efforts on the island as it created building projects on 3,200 acres of disputed lands.
The three-year build brought a great deal of attention to the hostile climate of the area as China was building on features that were not established as being controlled by any single country. It seems that China all but took the land by force.
The show of China’s power in the area is not only tied to the land of the islands either. The area is also extremely rich in resources in the sea and also hosts a significant amount of trade travel as well. Control of the area could make or break a variety of countries in the area that depend on both the resources and the trade routes.
While the footage that was released via CCTV shows fighters landing on Yongxing island, this is not the only island under China control. Recent reports point to the fact that there are a total of three human-made islands in the area that are currently controlled by China. This could mean a full fleet of up to 24 fighters, a small collection of larger passenger planes, and even bombers could be housed in the area.
Beyond the show of power in the South China Sea to establish their dominance in the region, there are some that point to another reason tied to the timing of China’s efforts. It could be directly linked to the increased presence of the United States in the area due to the increased tension with North Korea. It seems that the power for many parts of this region may be up for grabs and China is setting itself up for its share.
It does seem convenient that China suddenly unveils its fighters in the area as both South Korea and the United States complete training in the region. The training drills are taking place just a short distance north of the Chinese efforts.