Sabtu, Juni 21, 2014
BEIJING-(IDB) : China is conducting dredging operations at three reefs in the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea, according to data provided by IHS Maritime.

GPS tracking of a dredger using AISLive ship tracking data has confirmed Philippine claims that China has been reclaiming land at five locations since at least September 2013.

The dredging is part of major land reclamation projects undertaken by China on a number of the reefs and shoals it controls in the Spratlys. While such construction is in clear breach of a code of conduct signed by all claimants in the South China Sea territorial dispute, China has rejected any criticism of its activities by saying that the reefs are "indisputably" Chinese territory and so can be modified as Beijing sees fit.

The vessel, Tian Jing Hao, is a 127 m-long seagoing cutter suction dredger designed by German engineering company Vosta LMG. At 6,017 gross tonnes, it is credited as being the largest of its type in Asia. It has been operating on Cuarteron Reef (also known as Calderon Reef, Da Chau Vien, or Huayang Jiao); the Gaven Reefs (Nanxun Jiao and Xinan Jiao, Dá Ga Ven, and Dá Lc, Burgos); the Union Reefs (in particular at Johnson South Reef and Johnson North Reef); and at Fiery Cross Reef.

AISLive tracking of Tian Jing Hao's activities in the South China Sea since September 2013

Cuateron Reef             9-28 September 2013, 4-8 March 2014, 10 April to 22 May 2014
Union Reefs South      17 December 2013 to 3 March 2014
Union Reefs North       20 March to 3 April 2014
Fiery Cross Reef         7-14 December 2013 and 9-17 March 2014
Gaven Reefs               24 May to 15 June 2014

Licence built by China Merchants Heavy Industry yard in Shenzhen and launched in early 2010, Tian Jing Hao is operated by CCCC Tianjin Dredging. It deploys a cutter with the power of 4,200 kW to the seabed and deposits the spoil either through pipeline ashore for land reclamation or into hopper barges for dumping offshore.

Details of plans published by the No. 9 Design & Research Institute of China State Shipbuilding Corporation showing a possible Chinese military base on reclaimed land in the Spratly islands. (China State Shipbuilding Corporation)
The vessel can deploy its cutter to a depth of 30 m, with an extraction rate of 4,500 m 3 per hour, making it ideal for large-scale dredging operations.

According to the AISLive data, the dredger has been at Gaven Reefs since 24 May. This corroborates background briefings by Philippine officials, who have told IHS Jane's that three dredgers - including Tian Jing Hao and another called Nina Hai Tuo - are at Gaven Reef along with a large tugboat.

According to Philippine officials who have had access to naval aviation photos of the areas in question, Tian Jing Hao is moving "seabed material to a reclaimed area". Philippine military reports say that "reclamation operations at Gaven Reef are expected to be a month or more, barring any environmental setbacks".

The CGI plans show a runway, hangars for fast jets, a port, wind turbines, and greenhouses. (China State Shipbuilding Corporation)
AISLive tracking of Tian Jing Hao 's activities in the South China Sea shows that it has been moving between reefs since 17 December 2013. Satellite imagery provided to IHS Jane's confirms it was operating at Johnson South Reef - part of the Union Reefs - in February and March 2014. Other ships may also have been present in these areas, but were unidentifiable due to clutter or coverage issues. 


China has had a presence at many of these reefs since the late 1980s, when it began building platforms ostensibly under the guise of "sea-level monitoring". Fiery Cross Reef is one of the more notable examples of this, but has since been developed into a PLA Navy garrison, complete with pier, greenhouses, and coastal artillery.

In the case of Johnson South Reef, China wrested the reef from Vietnamese control in 1988 in a skirmish that left up to 70 Vietnamese personnel dead. Since the images of reclamation at the reef were published in May 2014, plans showing a runway, hangars for fast jets, a port, wind turbines, and greenhouses have been widely circulated online. The plans were first announced in 2012 and then published by the No. 9 Design & Research Institute of China State Shipbuilding Corporation, although they were later taken down from the institute's website.

It is important to note that China is not alone in conducting land reclamation of the South China Sea islands it controls. Since capturing Southwest Cay from the Philippines in 1975, Vietnam has substantially altered the island, adding a harbour and other land features in the past 10 years. Taiwan, which controls Itu Aba (Taiping) island, has built an airstrip and is currently upgrading its naval facilities. The Philippines has also announced plans to upgrade an airport and pier on Thitu (Pagasa) island, although resources remain a major issue for Manila.

The main difference between these activities and China's is that they modified existing land masses, while Beijing is constructing islands out of reefs that for the most part were under water at high tide.

The strategic effect of China's dredging and land reclamation makes it the most significant change to the South China Sea dispute since the 1988 Battle of Johnson South Reef. If completed as envisioned in the CGI designs, China will have its first airstrip in the Spratly islands - and a base from which to impose its interpretation of the surrounding features' sovereignty.

This has not gone unnoticed in Manila, where Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters on 13 June that the Chinese were being "very aggressive in pursuing their expansion in the West Philippine Sea, and obviously, these steps are designed to advance the theory of their nine-dash line".

In response, the Philippines has called for a moratorium on construction in the disputed South China Sea islands, including the Paracel islands. China responded on 16 June by dismissing the suggestion and accusing Manila of hypocrisy. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying pointed to Manila's building facilities in the Spratlys "on the one hand, and making irresponsible remarks about what China has legitimately done within her sovereign rights on the other", she said. "That is totally unjustifiable."

Sumber : Jane's

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