China’s artificial islands now a third of Manila City

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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China’s artificial islands now a third of Manila City
In the West Philippine Sea, China is building artificial islands the size of nearly 1,800 soccer fields combined

MANILA, Philippines – Hold your breath: China’s artificial islands in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) now add up to around a third of Manila City, the Philippines’ capital.

That’s also like nearly 1,800 soccer fields combined. 

China, after all, has reclaimed 12.82 square kilometers of land in the West Philippine Sea as of Thursday, July 30.

In these waters, the feature with the biggest reclaimed area is Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef), which China seized from the Philippines in 1995. (READ: Creating mischief in Mischief Reef)

This is based on data from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a 53-year-old independent think tank based in Washington DC.

Through satellite images it produced with Digital Globe, AMTI is tracking the artificial islands built by China to assert de facto control over the disputed waters.

Data from AMTI’s island tracker show the extent of China’s reclamation in the following areas:

  • Calderon Reef (Cuarteron Reef) – 231,100 square meters reclaimed
  • Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) – 2,740,000 square meters reclaimed
  • Burgos Reef (Gaven Reef) – 136,000 square meters reclaimed
  • Hughes Reef – 76,000 square meters reclaimed 
  • Mabini Reef (Johnson Reef) – 109,000 square meters reclaimed
  • Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) – 5,580,000 square meters reclaimed 
  • Zamora Reef (Subi Reef) – 3,950,000 square meters reclaimed

MILITARY FACILITIES? A CNN report says China has built an airport tower and an early warning radar on Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef). Photo obtained by Rappler

3-km runway on Zamora Reef?

The total size of China’s islands, based on these data, is 12,822,100 square meters or 12.82 kilometers.

This is a third of the size of the city of Manila – 38.55 square kilometers. 

(This is different from Metro Manila, the National Capital Region or NCR, which includes the city of Manila and other key towns and cities. The NCR is around 636 square kilometers big.)

This, too, is equivalent to around 1,795 soccer fields combined. An average soccer field measures 7,140 square meters.

Other sources show the extent of China’s island building. (LOOK: IN PHOTOS: Artificial China island can fit 3-km runway

Images of Zamora Reef, for one, show “intensive preparation of terrain for a likely airstrip,” according to analyst Victor Robert Lee. 

“A straight segment of reef that China has filled in with sand can easily accommodate a runway more than 3 kilometers long,” Lee said in an article on Medium.

China is building these artificial islands as Manila pursues a case against Beijing over the West Philippine Sea. (LOOK: IN PHOTOS: Philippines challenges China in The Hague)

China earlier admitted it is reclaiming land for military defense, among other things.

In June, the Asian giant said it is about to complete its construction activities in the West Philippine Sea. 

Manila urged Beijing to “desist” from its island-building. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email