Ever since China began its land reclamation projects in the Spratly archipelago, the United States and its Pacific allies have cried foul, expressing particular concern over a military-grade runway atop Fiery Cross Reef.
But China has long maintained that the primary purpose of the artificial islands is for humanitarian reasons, and a number of facilities recently constructed in the Spratlys support that claim, including a lighthouse, hospital, and tourist resort.
The latest development is no different.
According to state-owned Xinhua news, Fiery Cross Reef is now home to a farm. Nearly 4,000 square meters have been set aside for a vegetable garden, with more area reserved for a fishing pond. Roughly 500 livestock now call the island home, including geese, chickens, and pigs.
A hospital on Fiery Cross Reef is expected to be completed later this month. Covering nearly 160,000 square meters, the facility has a garden that includes coconut trees and tropical plants, according to Xinhua. The hospital will also feature state-of-the-art equipment for conducting operations and treating disease.
Naturally, these facilities require personnel, which is where that "military-grade" runway the US intelligence apparatus has been so panicked about apparently comes into play. The airstrip has been used by commercial jets to shuttle Chinese tourists.
A highly-contested region through which nearly $5 trillion in trade passes annually, most of the South China Sea is claimed by China, though there are overlapping claims by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The United States has no claims in the region, but that hasn’t stopped the Pentagon from conducting a series of provocative patrols within the 12-mile territorial limit of Beijing’s land reclamation projects. Washington has also coordinated joint-military exercises with regional allies, in an effort to challenge China’s influence.
On Sunday, the Chinese government responded to comments from US Secretary of State John Kerry in which he criticized Beijing’s planned creation of a national air defense zone in the region.
"Countries from outside should honor their commitments and not make irresponsible remarks on issues involving territorial sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
Sun Jianguo, deputy head of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army of China, had his own feedback for Kerry.
"We do not create problems, but are not afraid of trouble," he said, according to Reuters.