21 September 2019
Construction of the airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef is nearly done. Photo: AMTI/DigitalGlobe
Construction of the airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef is nearly done. Photo: AMTI/DigitalGlobe

Chinese airstrip on Spratlys artificial island almost finished

China has almost finished building a 3,000-meter-long airstrip on one of its artificial islands in the South China Sea’s disputed Spratly archipelago, Reuters reported, citing new satellite photographs.

While a US military commander had said in May that the airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef could be operational by year-end, the June 28 images suggest it could now happen sooner.

The airstrip will be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft, security experts have said, giving Beijing greater reach into the heart of maritime Southeast Asia.

China said Tuesday some of its land reclamation in the Spratlys, where it’s building seven islands on top of coral reefs, had been completed, although it gave few details.

The latest photographs were taken by satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe and published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 

AMTI said the airstrip was being paved and marked, and an apron and taxiway had been added next to the runway.

Two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas and one possible radar tower were visible on Fiery Cross Reef, it said.

The images also show a Chinese naval vessel moored in a port.

Recent images of Chinese-occupied South Johnson Reef also show a large multilevel military facility in the center of the reef, with two possible radar towers under construction, AMTI said.

Two helipads and up to three satellite communications antennas were also visible, it said.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

On Friday, the US State Department’s No. 2 diplomat compared China’s behavior in pursuit of territory in the South China Sea to that of Russia in eastern Ukraine.

A day later, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said changing position on China’s claims to the South China Sea would shame the country’s ancestors, while not facing up to infringements of Chinese sovereignty there would shame its children.

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