The strategic bases will give China the ability to deploy combat aircraft and other military assets with terrifying efficiency across the disputed region.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) analysed recent satellite photos and concluded that runways, aircraft hangers, radar sites and hardened surface-to-air missile shelters have either been finished or are nearing completion.

The report, released this week, appears to be the most conclusive indication yet that China is using its island-building project to give teeth to its claim over almost the entire South China Sea and its islands and reefs.

“It confirms what we’ve known for a long time,” Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, told news.com.au.

“Beijing intends to turn these artificial outposts into military footholds that will provide it with power projection capability right across the South China Sea.”

Doesn’t sound too benign to me.

“There’s also a more important day-to-day implication: these new military outposts allow China to dramatically extend its strategic reach from its southern shores down to Indonesian waters, creating a new strategic status quo and a Chinese sphere of influence.

“Beijing, in other words, is seeking to become the dominant military power in this part of the world with a capacity to prevent, deny or veto other countries from accessing these waters.

The islands in the study – Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs – are part of the Spratly chain, which is claimed in whole or in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

On each of the islands, China has constructed enough concrete hangers for 24 fighter jets and four or five larger planes such as bombers or early warning aircraft.

China already uses an existing airfield on Woody Island in the similarly disputed Paracel chain, located to the north, where it has maintained mobile HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles for more than a year and deployed anti-ship cruise missiles on at least one occasion.

The combination of the existing base in the north with the new islands in the south means China’s military can now operate over the entire sea at the drop of a hat.

The man-made islands in the South China Sea has drawn strong criticism from the US and others, who accuse Beijing of further militarising the region.

Not benign at all.

Politicians like Helen Clark give me the screaming dab dabs because they have not one clue about real strategic issues.