It’s known as the “Hawaii of China,” a tropical island paradise where the Chinese middle class enjoys sandy beaches, five-star resorts, and duty-free luxury shopping.
It’s also China’s largest free-trade port and host of the Boao Forum, an annual meeting of political and business leaders dubbed “Asia’s Davos.”
But Hainan, China’s southernmost province, is also a strategically important island. And just like Hawaii, it is also home to key military bases.
As American officials reveal more information about the Chinese balloon shot down on February 4 after floating across the US airspace, Hainan, an island thousands of miles away from America, has been brought into focus.
China has rejected US claims that the balloon was a surveillance device, instead maintaining it was a civilian research airship blown off course.
According to CNN reporting, US intelligence officials believe the Chinese balloon is part of an extensive surveillance program run, in part, out of Hainan by the Chinese military.
US officials told the New York Times they had been tracking the balloon since it lifted off from Hainan in late January. CNN previously reported that the US began tracking the balloon long before it entered the airspace of Alaska.
American officials have not provided the detailed location of the alleged balloon launch site on Hainan, and it’s not known if the balloon was launched from a military installation.
But the island, located on the northern edge of the South China Sea, has great strategic importance in the eyes of the Chinese military.
Out of sight of the holiday makers and business travelers, the southern edge of Hainan is a major base of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, home to part of its South Sea Fleet.
The base not only allows the PLA Navy to access the contested waters in the South China Sea, but also the crucial sea lane that links the Asia-Pacific region with India and the Middle East.
It was from this large naval complex that the Shandong, China’s second aircraft carrier and the first to be built domestically, was commissioned in 2019.
The complex is also home to nuclear-powered ballistic missile and attack submarines of China’s growing underwater fleet.
The Yulin Naval Base made headlines in 2020 when commercial satellites captured a PLA Navy sub entering a tunnel leading to underground docking facilities on the island.
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