China shows different side to life on disputed reef

Reuters, BEIJING

Sat, Jun 20, 2015 - Page 5

A Chinese Web site has published photographs from one of the reefs under China’s control in the disputed South China Sea showing female sailors posing on ocean break-walls, vegetable gardens being watered and even pigs in a pen.

The 17 photographs from Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑礁) show how quickly China is developing facilities to support its troops on the newly formed island following major land reclamation.

Sina Weibo put the slide-show online with the headline: “Gratifying results on China’s Yongshu Reef: Building vegetable greenhouses [and] growing fruit trees.”

The pictures can be seen here:

Fiery Cross Reef is among seven Chinese-held reefs in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) region of the South China Sea that are being transformed into artificial islands despite the alarm of other claimants to the strategic waterway and growing criticism from Washington.

Sina Weibo did not say when the pictures were taken or by whom, although they appear to have been taken from various other Web sites, including state radio and at least one celebrity gossip site. The pictures had no captions.

In one photograph, six female sailors in camouflaged uniforms pose on a break-wall with a greenhouse in the background.

Another picture shows a female sailor — or naval officer, it is not clear — standing by a stone plinth reading “Awe-inspiring South China Sea.”

The greenhouse is a particular focus of the slide-show, with its aubergines and tomato plants growing in neat lines. Several pigs in a sty appear in one photo.

What is not shown are the reef’s military facilities, such as a 3,000m runway and airborne early warning radar systems that are visible on commercial satellite images.

Neither is there any sign of dredgers or other equipment being used to reclaim land.

Beijing said this week that some of its reclamation work in the Spratlys would be completed soon but that it would continue to build facilities.

Beijing said the outposts would have undefined military purposes as well as help with maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection and navigation.