Sat, Apr 18, 2015 - Page 1 News List

China progresses swiftly on airstrip


A photo provided yesterday by the IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly and Airbus shows a runway under construction by China on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef), which Taiwan also claims, in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Photo: EPA

Satellite images published on Thursday show China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in contested territory in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) and might be planning another, moves that have been greeted with concern in the US and Asia.

IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly said images taken on March 23 by Airbus Defence and Space showed work on the runway on reclaimed parts of Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑礁) in the Spratly archipelago, which Taiwan also claims, along with China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

It said images from earlier in March showed reclamation work on Subi Reef (Jhubi Reef, 渚碧礁) in the Spratlys creating landmasses that, if joined together, could create space for another 3,000m airstrip.

IHS Jane’s said images of Fiery Cross Reef showed a paved section of runway 505m by 53m on the northeastern side of the reef, which China began turning into an island with extensive dredging last year.

IHS Jane’s said its photos showed further dredging work on the southwestern side of the island and cranes working in a harbor.

The US Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank said satellite photographs from Saturday last week showed the runway about one-third complete, with a projected total length of 3,110m, large enough for heavy military transport planes and fighters.

The think tank said the reclamation work could help China press its territorial claims, many of which are more than 1,600km from its shores, by allowing it to sustain long-distance sea and air patrols.

The report said other images suggested China was working to extend another airstrip to that length in the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) further north in the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Taiwan also claims the Paracels.

The report came a day after US Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the US Pacific Command, said China, which claims most of the South China Sea, could eventually deploy radar and missile systems on outposts it is building that could be used to enforce an exclusion zone should it move to declare one.

US Senator John McCain, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, called the Chinese moves “aggressive” and said they showed the need for the administration of US President Barack Obama to act on plans to move more military resources into the economically important Asian region and boost cooperation with Asian countries worried by China.

“When any nation fills in 600 acres of land and builds runways and most likely is putting in other kinds of military capabilities in what is international waters, it is clearly a threat to where the world’s economy is going, has gone, and will remain for the foreseeable future,” he told a public briefing in the US Congress.

In Washington on Thursday, Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai (崔天凱) said it was “natural” that reclamation work would include defense facilities.

He said there “should be no illusion that anyone could impose on China a unilateral status quo” or “repeatedly violate China’s sovereignty without consequences.”

In an apparent reference to US air activity, Cui added that the UN Convention on Law of the Sea, to which the US is not a signatory, did not give anyone the right to “conduct intensive and close-range reconnaissance in other countries’ exclusive economic zone."

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