Fiery Cross Reef, also known as "Northwest Investigator Reef", "Yongshu Reef" (永暑礁) by the Chinese, "Kagitingan Reef" by the Filipinos, and "Đá Chữ Thập" by the Vietnamese was, prior to large scale reclamation activities by China, a group of three reefs just west of the western edge of Dangerous Ground in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea. The area is occupied and controlled by China (PRC) as part of Sansha of Hainan Province and is also claimed by the Republic of China (ROC/Taiwan), the Philippines and Vietnam.
The reef was named after the British tea clipper Fiery Cross, which was wrecked on the reef on 4 March 1860. (A later sister ship was also named Fiery Cross). The reef was surveyed by Lieutenant J. W. Reed of HMS Rifleman, who in 1867 reported it to be one extensive reef, and found the apparent wrecks of the Fiery Cross and the Meerschaum.
It was named "Fiery Cross Reef" (十字火礁) or "N.W. (Northwestern) Investigator Reef" (西北调查礁)[which?] by the government of China in 1935. In 1947 it was renamed "Yongshu Reef"(永暑礁) by the government. At that time, Chinese fisherman called it "Tuwu" (土戊).
The reef was occupied by China (PRC) in 1988 when they were asked to build a UNESCO Marine observation station there, despite immediate opposition from Vietnam leading to armed conflict in March of that year. In 2014 the PRC commenced reclamation activity in the area, and it has been converted into an artificial island of 274 hectares (680 acres). There were around 200 Chinese troops on the reef in late 2014, though this number was likely to have increased significantly in 2015 with the addition of support personnel for the new airbase (including a 3,125 m-long runway) and associated early warning radar site.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it is "the most advanced of China's bases" in the South China Sea's disputed areas, with 12 hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers already completed. It has enough hangars to accommodate 24 combat aircraft and four larger planes Fiery Cross reef has a runway long enough to land a Chinese Xian H-6 bomber; a bomber like this could perform combat operations within 3,500 miles of the reclaimed reef.
On 12 July 2016, the tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration concluded that Fiery Cross Reef contains, within the meaning of Article 121(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), naturally formed areas of land, surrounded by water, which are above water at high tide. However, for purposes of Article 121(3) of UNCLOS, the high-tide features at Fiery Cross Reef are "rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own and accordingly shall be entitled to 12nm of territorial sea measured from its baseline but have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf".
In 1987, following a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO/IOC) meeting in March, it was agreed that the PRC would build weather stations in the South China sea as part of the Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS) survey. The scientists from GLOSS agreed that China would install tide gauges on what the PRC considered to be its coasts in the East China Sea and on the "Nansha islands" in South China Sea. The scientists were unaware of regional political disputes, including Taiwanese territorial claims to, and occupation of, one of the Spratly Islands.
In April 1987, the PRC chose Fiery Cross Reef as the site to build a weather station, as the reef was large enough for the purpose, and it was isolated from other disputed islands and reefs. However, this caused further skirmishes with Vietnam when, in January 1988, some Vietnamese ships with construction materials tried to approach the reef in a bid to establish structures there.
During 2014 the PRC government began reclamation activities to construct a large artificial island to support an approximately 3,300 metres (10,800 ft) airstrip, a seaport and a military garrison.
Although the PRC has a 3,000-metre (9,800 ft) runway on Woody Island in the Paracels, it claimed it had been at a disadvantage compared with other claimants of areas of the South China Sea as it was the only claimant that did not have an airfield in the Spratly Islands. Since 2014 the PRC has reclaimed land on seven reefs in the Spratly Islands, and built three runways. The runway on Fiery Cross was completed in January 2016, and is the southernmost of the three, (the others being at Mischief and Subi Reefs). The PRC test-landed two civilian aircraft there in January 2016, one from China Southern Airlines and the other from Hainan Airlines.
The People's Liberation Army Daily reported that a Chinese military jet had made a public landing there in April 2016. It has been asserted that other PRC military aircraft, including jet fighters, have been observed there since April 2016.