From ABS-CBN (Apr 17): China building airstrip on Kagitingan Reef
Dredgers deposit sand on the northern rim of the Mischief Reef, located 216 km west of Palawan, in this Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative satellite image taken on February 1, 2015 and released to Reuters on April 9, 2015. REUTERS/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe/Handout
Recent satellite images show China has begun building its first airstrip in contested territory in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and may be working on another, a leading defense publication reported on Thursday.
IHS Jane's Defense Weekly said the images provided by Airbus Defence and Space taken on March 23 showed the construction work on reclaimed parts of Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef) in the archipelago, territory China contests with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
It said images from earlier in March also showed reclamation work on Subu Reef in the Spratlys creating landmasses that, if joined together, could create enough space for another 3,000 meter (3281 yards) airstrip.
The report said satellite imagery suggested China was also working to extend another airstrip to that length in the Paracel Islands further north in the South China Sea.
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, the report said.
Preparation of other runway sections had also begun further along the island and workers had paved an apron area of about 400 meters (437 yards) by 20 meters (22 yards).
The report said Fiery Cross was capable of housing a runway about 3,000 meters, well within the parameters of Chinese air force runways.
It said the photos showed further dredging work on the southwestern side of the island and floating cranes consolidating a harbor.
The report comes a day after the U.S. military commander for Asia, Admiral 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 over the disputed territory.
Last week, the United States warned against militarization of contested territory in Asia and President Barack Obama accused China of using its "sheer size and muscle" to push around smaller nations after Beijing sketched out plans to use the Spratlys for military defense as well as to provide civilian services that would benefit other countries.
Speaking at an seminar in Washington on Thursday, China's ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said it was "natural" the work would include military defense facilities.
He said there "should be no illusion that anyone could impose on China a unilateral status quo" or "repeatedly violate China's sovereignty without consequences."
In an apparent reference to U.S. air activity, Cui added that the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea, to which the United States is not a signatory, did not give anyone the right to "conduct intensive and close-range reconnaissance in other countries' exclusive economic zone."
The United States said it does not take sides in the South China Sea but has called for a freeze on provocative acts.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich sea, through which $5 trillion of maritime trade passes every year. Western and Asian naval officials have expressed fears that China could try to limit both sea and air navigation once its reclaimed islands are fully established.