China keeps saying it isn’t militarizing the contested waters of the South China Sea, but then it goes and builds more military facilities on artificial islands along crucial trade routes in … you guessed it, the South China Sea. In May, the United States conducted a “freedom of navigation” operation, essentially a matter of showing China we will sail our naval vessels where we want. Between observations from the ship that made the rounds and satellite images from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a Washington think tank, it’s clear that China is building up its infrastructure on the appropriately named Mischief Reef.
Reuters reports that much of what China is working on right now looks like it could be part of the radar systems needed for missile launches. That includes a “very large antennae array” and some mysterious domes. There are already 24 missile shelters on Mischief, Fiery Cross, and Subi islands, and now China is building four more on Fiery Cross. In February several structures were completed on three islands that look like storage for long-range surface-to-air missiles.
China might be asserting its political and military might, but business relations are another matter. Even as Beijing ramps up its presence in the South China Sea to test Trump, his brand has never been more popular in China. Patents are flying left and right. A slew were granted in record time to the Trump Organization, which is also battling Chinese companies over patents for everything from condoms to toilets (!) that have Trump’s name and/or face. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are also wheeling and dealing in China in ways that blur the line between their political roles and business responsibilities.
But whatever is happening in board rooms, Chinese officials are still ramping up military might to test Trump and let the current administration know who the major Eastern superpower is. Beijing has been going toe-to-toe with the U.S. over everything from aircraft in the South China Sea to the Paris Climate Accord to North Korea. Tensions have ratcheted up enough that David Rank, the U.S. Ambassador to China, quit his job in Beijing. Meanwhile, as China increases its military presence, South Korea is trying to edge out the United States’ presence in its territories, specifically regarding the controversial THAAD anti-missile system. Now is a touchy time for everyone in the region, and all this new missile buildup isn’t helping.