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China has built up a significant military presence in the South China Sea as the country controversially tries to gain control in the region. 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.” Photographs published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer showed cargo ships and supply vessels, which appeared to be delivering construction materials to the China-controlled islands. Others show runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multistorey buildings that China has built on reefs.
But its military firepower on the ground and sea has been accompanied by a different threat – cyber attacks.
Just hours after China’s claim to the South China Sea was rubbished in The Hague in 2016, at least 68 national and local government websites in the Philippines were knocked offline in a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
The Philippines took action against Beijing over its Nine Dash Line claim of the sea, which marked 90 percent of the waters as Chinese territory.
In the summer of 2015, Chinese hackers allegedly breached the court’s servers during a hearing on the territorial dispute, leaving anyone interested in the landmark legal case at risk of data theft.
Experts Jason Healey and Anni Piiparinen predicted that “the Philippines (and its US allies) should start preparing now for a massive digital tantrum by Chinese patriot hackers if the ruling goes against the Middle Kingdom”.
A report published by enSilo found that the Chinese cyber espionage group called the Advanced Persistent Threat group 10 or APT10 deployed two malicious software variants that targeted government and private organisations in the Philippines just last year.
Fears remain focussed at China’s recent aggression with its weaponry in the region sparking fears of conflict.
A source close to the Chinese military said last month that an “aircraft-carrier killer” and one other missile were launched into the South China Sea as a warning to the US.
One of the missiles, a DF-26B, was launched from the northwestern province of Qinghai, while the other, a DF-21D, lifted off from Zhejiang, a province in the east of the country.
The move represents a drastic escalation in an already fragile standoff between two of the world’s biggest nuclear powers.
Both missiles targeted areas between Hainan province and the Paracel Islands according to Beijing’s forces, areas contested by smaller nations such as Vietnam and Taiwan.
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The DF-21D in particular has been described as an especially dangerous weapon by experts.
It was unveiled in 2015, and is thought to have a range exceeding 1,450 kilometres according to the US National Air and Space Intelligence Center.
As the Financial Times reported, the missile could also travel up to 10 times the speed of sound, making it virtually impossible to intercept once launched.
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