• These structures are likely temporary, considering the speed of their installation
  • Solar panels have been installed on top of many buildings across Woody Island 
  • The Philippines and Taiwan too have carried out expansion works on their outposts

The disputed islands in the South China Sea are witnessing increased construction activities, with mystery structures appearing across Chinese outposts.

Satellite images have shown large blue-roofed structures at every Chinese-occupied feature in the Spratly Islands. These structures are likely temporary, given the speed at which they have been erected and moved from one location to another, according to a report published by the U.S.-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).

The report said the structures are likely similar, 50 meters long and either 15 or 25 meters wide. The first one was spotted at Fiery Cross Reef in November 2019. Soon, similar structures began to pop up at Subi Reef in April 2020, Mischief Reef in May, Gaven and Hughes Reef in August, Johnson Reef in September, and Cuarteron Reef by January of 2021.

However, the latest one to come up is at the center of Fiery Cross Reef in April 2022. According to AMTI, this may be the same one found at the southern tip of Fiery Cross, which was then moved to the Center.

The blue structures then made appearances in the Paracel Islands, appearing on Woody Island in April of 2021, Duncan Island in June, and Pattle Island in August. The structure at Woody Island was taken down in January of this year.

Besides, solar panels were installed on top of many buildings across Woody Island last year. The Woody Islands is the heart of China’s military and civilian administration in the South China Sea.

Not just structures, the harbors of Paracel Islands, Lincoln, Money and Pattle islands have also seen major upgrades in the last two years. While Lincoln’s was expanded from 175 to 200 meters wide in March 2021, Money’s grew from 150 to 190 meters in March 2022, and Pattle’s from 190 to 250 meters a month later. These islands are controlled by China, though Vietnam and Taiwan all claim rights over the island.

Not just China, but even the Philippines have also taken up expansion works at its outposts. Manila has reportedly renovated the runway at its largest occupied feature, Thitu Island. The last few months saw the lower half of the runway being freshly paved this April.

The Philippines have also made minor improvements to several of its other occupied features. The Commodore Reef and Loaita Cay outposts too have received identical new structures.

Taiwan too has carried out land reclamation this year on the western end of its only occupied feature in the Spratlys, Itu Aba.

An aerial shot of Chinese development on the disputed Subi reef in the Spratlys
An aerial shot of Chinese development on the disputed Subi reef in the Spratlys AFP / TED ALJIBE