Satellite images show China is building an island on a reef in the disputed Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) large enough to accommodate what could be its first offshore airstrip in the South China Sea, a leading defense publication said on Friday.
The construction has stoked concern that China might be converting disputed territory in the mineral-rich archipelago into military installations, adding to tensions in waters also claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly said images it had obtained showed the China-built island on the Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑礁) to be at least 3,000m long and 200m to 300m wide, which it said is “large enough to construct a runway and apron.”
The building work flies in the face of US calls for a freeze in provocative activity in the South China Sea, one of Asia’s biggest security issues. Concern is growing about an escalation in disputes even as claimants work to establish a code of conduct to resolve them.
Dredgers were also apparently creating a harbor to the east of the reef “that would appear to be large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants,” it said.
Asked about the report at a defense forum in Beijing yesterday, Jin Zhirui, a colonel with the Chinese air force command, declined to confirm it, but said that China needed to build facilities in the South China Sea for strategic reasons.
“We need to go out, to make our contribution to regional and global peace,” Jin said. “We need support like this, including radar and intelligence.”
The land reclamation project was China’s fourth in the Spratly Islands in the past 12 to 18 months and by far the largest, IHS Jane’s said.
Beijing has rejected Washington’s call for all parties to halt activity in the disputed waters to ease tension, saying it can build whatever its wants in the South China Sea.
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