top of page

South China Sea: The Strategic Implications of China’s Artificial Islands; By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0161/2015


Presentation to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Parliament House, Canberra, August 18, 2015

There are four main drivers behind China’s policy of constructing artificial islands in the South China Sea: nationalism, fisheries, hydrocarbons and strategic imperatives. Strategic imperatives are the most important. China seeks to counter the Obama Administration’s policy of re-balancing towards the Asia-Pacific by developing sufficient military power to dominate the first island chain running south from Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Philippines. China seeks to dominate the South China Sea to protect its sea lines of communications and to secure its southern flank against intervention by the U.S. Navy and Air Force. China’s artificial islands in the centre of the South China Sea will serve as forward operating bases for Chinese fisheries and hydrocarbon industries as well as maritime law enforcement agencies. More importantly, the infrastructure on these artificial islands will support a growing military presence in the future. China has not just changed “facts on the ground” but is altering the regional naval balance of power. This presentation concludes by arguing that present U.S. and Australian policies are unlikely to dissuade China from its current course of action.  In summary, China is slowly and deliberately excising the maritime heart out of Southeast Asia.

China’s Perspective: U.S. Rebalancing is About Containing China


China’s Counter-Intervention Strategy

 Dominate the 1st Island Chain and Protect China’s Southern Flank in South China Sea


China’s Power Projection Capabilities Are Growing

Major Naval Base on south of Hainan Island – dock enlarged for aircraft carrier


Strike Range from Yulin Naval Base


China’s Forward Operating Bases in the South China Sea

Infrastructure-building on Artificial Islands in the Spratlys


China: Extension of Runway on Woody Island, Paracels


China’s Construction on Fiery Cross Reef



Mischief Reef



China’s Construction on Cuarteron, Gaven, Hughes and Johnson South Reefs


Cuarteron Reef


Malaysia: China Maintaining a Permanent Presence near Luconia Breakers


(Reprinted with the permission of the author. Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra and Director of Thayer Consultancy registered in Australia. email:

1 view0 comments


bottom of page