China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in disputed South China Sea waters.
Work is progressing on a runway on reclaimed part of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly archipelago, Reuters reported Friday, citing recent satellite images.
The archipelago is contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
The images were provided by Airbus Defense and Space and published by IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly.
The publication said images from earlier in March showed reclamation work on Subu Reef in the Spratlys creating landmasses that, if joined together, could create space for another 3,000-meter airstrip.
The report said other images suggested China was working to extend another airstrip to that length in the Paracel Islands further north in the South China Sea.
It came a day after the US military commander for Asia, Adm.l Samuel Locklear, said China could eventually deploy radar and missile systems on outposts it is building in the South China Sea that could be used to enforce an exclusion zone should China move to declare one.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, called the Chinese moves “aggressive” and said they showed the need for the Obama administration to act on plans to move more military resources into the economically important Asian region and boost cooperation with Asian countries worried by China.
McCain referred to a US intelligence assessment from February that China’s military modernization was designed to counteract US strength and said Washington had a lot of work ahead to maintain its military advantage in Asia Pacific.
“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,” McCain told a public briefing in Congress.
A spokesperson for the US State Department said the scale of China’s land reclamation and construction was fueling concerns within the region that China intends to militarize its outposts and stressed the importance of freedom of navigation.
“The United States has a strong interest in preservation of peace and security in the South China Sea. We do not believe that large-scale land reclamation with the intent to militarize outposts on disputed land features is consistent with the region’s desire for peace and stability.”
IHS Jane’s said images of Fiery Cross Reef showed a paved section of runway 505 meters (552 yards) by 53 meters (58 yards) on the northeastern side of the reef, which China began turning into an island with extensive dredging last year.
It said the photos showed further dredging work on the southwestern side of the island and floating cranes consolidating a harbor.
– Contact us at [email protected]