Beijing has a new ship capable of creating artificial islands — potentially the largest of its kind in Asia — raising fears it could be deployed in the tension-laden South China Sea.
The world's second-largest economy is testing a new deep sea dredger, an excavation vessel used for land reclamation, state-run media recently reported. The 140-meter-long Tian Kun Hao is capable of gathering 6,000 cubic meters of sand per hour from 35 meters beneath the sea and moving it away to create new land features, according to propaganda outlet Global Times.
China has many land reclamation projects along its coastlines, so the presence of a new dredger isn't unusual. But the nation's track record of territorial aggression has spurred concerns the device will be used to create man-made islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing has previously utilized dredgers to create seven fortified islands — some of which now house airfields, missile bases and radar systems — in the international waterway. That happened despite contesting assertions of sovereignty from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Chinese President Xi Jinping's administration relies on a concept known as the nine-dash line to mark territorial claims, which extend roughly 1,000 miles from the nation's southern shores.
"Given the strategic importance of the South China Sea islands and the extent of their recent development it would certainly be reasonable to suspect that this dredger might be used there," said Duncan Innes-Ker, Asia regional director at The Economist Intelligence Unit.