Jonathan Spangler, director of the South China Sea think-tank in Taipei, says the fight over Taiping’s status has much wider implications because it is the biggest natural feature in the Spratlys and the only one with a serious claim to be an island in international law.

He points out that while China has built a much bigger air base on reclaimed land at nearby Fiery Cross Reef, such man-made features cannot generate an exclusive economic zone.

“If Taiping is officially an island and none of China’s occupied features are considered islands by international law, it could throw the whole focus of the South China Sea disputes back to cross-Strait relations,” he says.