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Several countries claim territorial rights in the South China Sea, which has become one of the most hostile regions on the planet. The Spratly islands form the epicentre of the complex disputes, as China occupies seven features, and has heavily militarised its portion of the archipelago. But Beijing is not alone on the islands. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan have also staked claims in the Spratly chain, making the region the most complex and contested piece of the South China Sea puzzle. Described by many as “island fortresses”, China has engulfed the South China Sea with man made island bases, and has been accused of forming them specifically for military purposes.
The moving of its aircraft carriers, airstrips and weapons into the region has earned the cluster of bases the nickname: “The Great Wall of Sand.”
While China continues its relentless surge for military dominance, the US has regularly aggravated China by sending warships and aircraft carriers through waters Beijing deems to be its own.
The competition for island clusters and lucrative waters has also seen the introduction of underwater weapons, displayed by China’s military.
Chinese state-affiliated media released a video of a training exercise by naval special warfare operators from the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Jiaolong Commandos.
The name translates to ‘Sea Dragons’ – and the force were filmed using underwater guns.
According to state-run media outlet CGTN, the Jiaolong Commandos are based in Sanya, the southernmost city on Hainan Island, in the South China Sea.
The same source identifies some of the unit’s reportedly broad areas of expertise as coastal infiltration, jungle patrol, and urban counter-terrorism.
Among the weapons in question are QBS-06 underwater assault rifles.
According to Western accounts, the QBS-06 seen in the hands of the Jiaolong Commandos fires special 5.8mm DBS-06 ammunition, each round carrying a long, needle-like projectile.
These are loaded in detachable plastic magazines each with a 25-round capacity. Its cyclic rate of fire is reportedly around 600 rounds per minute.
The Chinese troops were also seen using a QSS-05 underwater pistol.
The base in Hainan Island has also caught attention in recent years, as it is a hive of submarine activity.
Retired USN Captain Christopher Carlson warned that these vessels were “asking for trouble” adding that “most people don’t realise submarines manoeuvre like pigs on the surface”.
RFA’s report claimed the scene “hints at how China can marshal considerable undersea power on the doorstep of the disputed South China Sea”.
The most recent image on Google Maps, for example, shows three submarines – two ballistic missile carriers and one smaller attack type – tied up at the open piers.
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This isn’t the first time a base of this type has been discovered, though.
Building was commenced on another base, worth £230million, in 2017 which aims to help President Xi Jinping quell US opposition by increasing Chinese control of the contested waters.
Security experts believe it could take the form of an underwater spy hub, equipped with trackers which could help locate US warships and submarines.
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