Beijing’s “magic island maker” set for South China Sea role

magic island maker
The Tianjun island making machine was launched yesterday and is expected to be fully operational by next June

China has unveiled a huge “magic island maker” that’s set to be used in the disputed South China Sea.

The enormous ship, called Tiankun (Tian Kun Hao), can dredge 6,000 cubic meters — 211,000 cubic feet — of mud every hour. This would equate to two-and-a-half Olympic-standard swimming pools.

China’s state media People’s Daily Online reported today (Saturday, October 4) that the “self-propelled cutter-suction dredging ship” — which it dubbed “the magic island maker” — was launched at the port of Nantong, in east China’s Jiangsu Province.

It’s said to be the most powerful dredging vessel China has ever built. It is expected to be fully operational by next June.

Measuring 140 metres (460 feet) long and 27.8 metres (91 feet) wide, Tiankun can smash underwater rocks as well as move sand, mud and water to construct man-made islands.

The ship can dig as deep as 35 metres (115 feet) into the sea. It can squirt liquid and debris to as far as 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) — the farthest for any dredging ships in the world, the People’s Daily claimed.

Tiankun is the sister vessel of Tianjing, which China has already used to build military bases in the Spratly Islands, which are also claimed by the Philippines.

Beijing’s aggressive campaign of archipelago building in the South China Sea has been a point of contention with neighbouring countries that lay claim to parts of its waters.

China claims nearly all of the sea, through which $5 trillion in shipping trade passes every year, and which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

Its sweeping claims overlap with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei and Taiwan.

China’s military expansion in the waters ties into a broader Chinese initiative, called One Belt One Road.

The vast infrastructure project, launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping, is set to build a ‘new Silk Road’ of ports, railways and roads to expand trade across an arc of countries through Asia, Africa and Europe.