Fiery Cross Reef

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Fiery Cross Reef
Disputed island
Other names:
Northwest Investigator Reef
永暑礁 Yǒngshǔ Jiāo (Chinese)
Kagitingan Reef (Philippine English)
Bahura ng Kagitingan (Filipino)
Đá Chữ Thập (Vietnamese)
Fiery Cross Reef 2020.jpg
Satellite image taken by SkySat in 2020
Fiery Cross Reef is located in South China Sea
Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef
Location of the major islands in Sansha
Legend: Black star.svg Black:Sansha (Pref. seat) Yongxing Pink pog.svg Pink:Huangyan Green pog.svg Green:Yongshu Blue pog.svg Blue:Meiji Purple pog.svg Purple:Zhubi Orange pog.svg Orange:Huayang Yellow pog.svg Yellow:Nanxun Red pog.svg Red:Chiguo Brown pog.svg Brown:Dongmen
LocationSouth China Sea
Coordinates9°32′57″N 112°53′21″E / 9.54917°N 112.88917°E / 9.54917; 112.88917Coordinates: 9°32′57″N 112°53′21″E / 9.54917°N 112.88917°E / 9.54917; 112.88917
AreaNatural: 0 ha
Reclaimed: 274 ha[1]
Administered by
 People's Republic of China
Claimed by

Fiery Cross Reef, also known as "Northwest Investigator Reef", Mandarin Chinese: 永暑礁; pinyin: Yǒngshǔ Jiāo; Kagitingan Reef (Tagalog: Bahura ng Kagitingan, lit.'Reef of Valor'); Vietnamese: Đá Chữ Thập, is a militarized reef occupied and controlled by China (PRC) as part of Sansha of Hainan Province[2] and is also claimed by the Republic of China (ROC/Taiwan), the Philippines and Vietnam.

The reef was named after the British tea clipper Fiery Cross, which was wrecked on the reef on 4 March 1860. (A later sister ship was also named Fiery Cross). The reef was surveyed by Lieutenant J. W. Reed of HMS Rifleman, who in 1867 reported it to be one extensive reef, and found the apparent wrecks of Fiery Cross and Meerschaum.[3]

In December 1934 the 'Land and Water Maps Inspection Committee' of the government of the China copied the English name "Fiery Cross Reef" and translated it as 十字火礁 / Shizi huo jiao (literally Fire Cross Reef). This name was published on an official list of names in January 1935.[4] In 1947, it was renamed "Yongshu Reef" (永暑礁) by the government. At that time, Chinese fishermen called it "Tuwu" (土戊).[citation needed]

The reef was occupied by China (PRC) in early 1988, despite immediate opposition from Vietnam, which lead to armed conflict at Johnson Reef South in March of that year.[5] In 2014, the PRC commenced reclamation activity in the area, and it has been converted into an artificial island of 274 hectares (677 acres).[1] There were around 200 Chinese troops on the reef in late 2014,[6] though this number was likely to have increased significantly in 2015 with the addition of support personnel for the new airbase, including a 3,125-meter-long (1.9 mi) runway[7] and associated early warning radar site.[citation needed]

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it is "the most advanced of China's bases" in the South China Sea's disputed areas, with 12 hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers already completed. It has enough hangars to accommodate 24 combat aircraft and four larger planes[8][9] Fiery Cross reef has a runway long enough to land a Chinese Xian H-6N bomber; a bomber like this could perform combat operations within 5,600 kilometers (3,500 mi) of the reclaimed reef.[10]

Geographical features[edit]

On 12 July 2016, the tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration concluded that Fiery Cross Reef contains, within the meaning of Article 121(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), naturally formed areas of land, surrounded by water, which are above water at high tide. However, for purposes of Article 121(3) of UNCLOS, the high-tide features at Fiery Cross Reef are "rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own and accordingly shall be entitled to 12 nautical miles of territorial sea measured from its baseline but have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf".[11]

GLOSS sea level monitoring station[edit]

In March 1987, China submitted the name of 'Yongshu Jiao' to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO/IOC) meeting as a possible location for a monitoring station as part of the Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS) survey.[12] The scientists, unaware of the location of 'Yongshu Jiao' included the feature on a list of sites for tide gauges on what the PRC considered to be its coasts in the East China Sea and on the "Nansha islands" in South China Sea. The scientists were unaware of regional political disputes, including Taiwanese territorial claims to, and occupation of, one of the Spratly Islands.[13]

In April 1987, the PRC chose Fiery Cross Reef as the site to build a weather station, as the reef was large enough for the purpose, and it was isolated from other disputed islands and reefs. However, this caused further skirmishes with Vietnam when, in January 1988, some Vietnamese ships with construction materials tried to approach the reef in a bid to establish structures there.[5]

Construction was commenced in February 1988 and completed in August 1988.[14]

Land reclamation[edit]

Fiery Cross Reef being transformed, May 2015

During 2014, the PRC government began land reclamation activities to construct a large artificial island to support an approximately 3,300 meters (10,800 ft) airstrip, a seaport and a military base.[15][16][17] China has spent an estimated 73.6 Billion Yuan (US$11.5 Billion) on expanding Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys alone.[18]

Although the PRC has a 3,000-meter (9,800 ft) runway on Woody Island in the Paracels, it had been at a disadvantage compared with other claimants of areas of the South China Sea as it was the only claimant that did not have an airfield in the Spratly Islands. As of January 2016, the PRC has reclaimed land on seven reefs and built three runways within the Spratly Islands. The runway on Fiery Cross was completed in January 2016 and is the southernmost of the three (the others being at Mischief and Subi reefs).[19][20] The PRC test-landed two civilian aircraft there in January 2016, one from China Southern Airlines and the other from Hainan Airlines.[21][22]

The People's Liberation Army Daily reported that a Chinese military jet had made a public landing there in April 2016.[23] It has been asserted that other PRC military aircraft, including jet fighters, have been observed there since April 2016.[citation needed]

In late 2016, photographs emerged which suggested that Fiery Cross Reef has been armed with anti-aircraft weapons and a CIWS missile-defense system.[24]

Yongshu Airport[edit]

Yongshu Airport
Airport typeMilitary
Owner People's Republic of China
OperatorPeople's Liberation Army Navy
LocationFiery Cross Reef
Yongshu Airport is located in South China Sea
Yongshu Airport
Yongshu Airport
Location of airport in the South China Sea
Direction Length Surface
ft m
05/23 10,800 3,300 Concrete

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Fiery Cross Reef". Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
    Older page showing earlier pictures:
    "Fiery Cross reef tracker" (in Chinese). Center for Strategic and International Studies. Archived from the original on 2015-05-29. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  2. ^ Joe Burgess (2012-05-31). "Territorial Claims in South China Sea". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  3. ^ Findlay, Alexander George (1878). A Directory for the Navigation of the Indian Archipelago, China, and Japan (2nd ed.). London: Richard Holmes Laurie. p. 625.
  4. ^ Hayton, Bill (2019). "The Modern Origins of China's South China Sea Claims: Maps, Misunderstandings, and the Maritime Geobody". Modern China. 45 (2): 127–170. doi:10.1177/0097700418771678. S2CID 150132870.
  5. ^ a b Koo, Min Gyo (6 May 2010). Island Disputes and Maritime Regime Building in East Asia: Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 154. ISBN 978-1441962232. Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  6. ^ DJ Sta. Ana (13 June 2014). "China reclaiming land in 5 reefs?". The Philippine Star. Retrieved 11 September 2014 – via
  7. ^ "China completes runway on Fiery Cross Reef". Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  8. ^ "China's Big Three Near Completion". Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI). Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  9. ^ Center for Strategic & International Studies (29 July 2015). "China's Airpower from Fiery Cross Reef". Retrieved 29 August 2017 – via YouTube.
  10. ^ "Airpower in the South China Sea".
  11. ^ "Award" (PDF). Permanent Court of Arbitration. 12 July 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 January 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2016. p.259
  12. ^ Lee, Lai To (1999). China sea and South China sea dialogues. Greenwood Publishing group. ISBN 0275966356. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  13. ^ "South China Sea Treacherous Shoals", Far Eastern Economic Review, August 13, 1992: p14-17
  14. ^ Boothroyd, Adrienne. "Owning the islands: China's move into the South China Sea - A study of Chinese Foreign Policy" (PDF). Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  15. ^ Hardy, James; O'Connor, Sean (20 November 2014). "China building airstrip-capable island on Fiery Cross Reef". IHS Janes Defence Weekly. IHS. IHS Janes 360. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  16. ^ Hardy, James; O'Connor, Sean (16 April 2015). "China's first runway in Spratlys under construction". IHS Jane's 360. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  17. ^ "China building runway in disputed South China Sea island". BBC News. BBC. 2015-04-17. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  18. ^ "US$11.5bn spent by China to expand disputed Fiery Cross Reef". WantChinaTimes - 2015-04-15. Archived from the original on 2015-07-19. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  19. ^ "有線寬頻". i-CABLE:中國兩民航客機試飛降落後回航. 7 January 2016.
  20. ^ McAlinden, Tom (6 January 2016). "China lands two more planes on disputed reef".
  21. ^ Chen, Te-Ping (3 January 2016). "China Lands Test Flight in Disputed Island Chain" – via Wall Street Journal.
  22. ^ Diola, Camille (7 January 2016). "2 Chinese commercial planes land at Kagitingan Reef".
  23. ^ Mirren Gidda (18 April 2016). "China makes first military jet landing on disputed South China Sea Island". Newsweek.
  24. ^ "China's New Spratly Island Defenses". Center for Strategic and International Studies. 2016-12-13. Retrieved 2016-12-17.