WASHINGTON • Vietnam is extending a runway on an island it claims in the South China Sea in an apparent response to China's building of military facilities on artificial islands in the region, a United States think-tank reported.
Satellite images taken this month showed that Vietnam had lengthened its runway on Spratly Island from less than 760m to more than 1km, Washington's Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said on Thursday.
AMTI, a project of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think-tank, said continued reclamation work would likely mean the runway was extended to more than 1.2km. It said the upgraded runway would be able to accommodate maritime surveillance aircraft and transport planes, as well as combat aircraft.
The report said Vietnam had added about 23ha of land to Spratly Island in recent years, but that its reclamation work remained modest by Chinese standards.
China has built military-length runways on three artificial islands it has built up in the South China Sea since 2013.
The US, which has criticised China's reclamation work and stepped up defence cooperation with Vietnam in response, said it was aware of the reports that Hanoi had upgraded some of its outposts in the Spratly Islands.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said yesterday that China had indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and that it was "firmly opposed to relevant countries' illegal occupation".
Reuters reported in August that Vietnam had discreetly fortified several of its islands in the South China Sea with mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China's runways and military installations across the trade route.
Military analysts say the deployment of the launchers is the most significant defensive move Vietnam has made on its holdings in the South China Sea in decades and that it underscores Hanoi's concern about China's assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the disputed region.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry has called the information "inaccurate", without elaborating.