BEIJING • China has almost finished building a 3,000m-long airstrip on one of its artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, new satellite photographs of the area show.
A US military commander had said in May that the airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef could be operational by year-end, although the June 28 images suggest that could now be sooner. The airstrip will be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft, security experts have said, giving Beijing a greater reach into the heart of maritime South-east Asia.
China said on Tuesday that some of its land reclamation in the Spratlys - where it is building seven islands on top of coral reefs, had been completed - but gave few details.
The latest photographs were published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
AMTI said the airstrip was being paved and marked, while an apron and taxiway had been added adjacent to the runway.
The airstrip will be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft, security experts have said, giving Beijing a greater reach into the heart of maritime South-east Asia.
Two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas and one possible radar tower were visible on Fiery Cross Reef, it said. The images also showed a Chinese naval vessel moored in a port.
Recent images of the Chinese- occupied South Johnson Reef also showed a large military facility in the centre of the reef with two possible radar towers under construction, AMTI added.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$6.7 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.
China stepped up its creation of artificial islands last year, alarming its South-east Asian neighbours.
Beijing said the outposts will have undefined military purposes, and will also help with maritime search and rescue operations, disaster relief and navigation.
Last Friday, the US State Department's No. 2 diplomat compared China's behaviour in pursuit of territory in the South China Sea to that of Russia in eastern Ukraine.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi responded a day later, saying that changing position on China's claims to the South China Sea would shame the country's ancestors. REUTERS