Is Beijing readying its airstrips for a military build-up in the South China Sea?


Satellite images show transport plane on Subi Reef in contested Spratly Islands, just 12 nautical miles from Philippine island

The presence of the Shaanxi Y-8 transport plane on a runway at Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands, as seen in satellite images taken on April 28, confirms that China has now landed military aircraft on all three of its airstrips – located on separate reefs – in the contested archipelago, the Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said.

Last month, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published photographs, said to have been taken in January, of two Chinese transport planes, believed to be Xian Y-7s, on Mischief Reef in the island group, while in April 2016, a Chinese naval patrol aircraft, most probably a Y-8, landed on Fiery Cross Reef to evacuate three people who had fallen ill there.

Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea, which includes the construction of artificial islands and related infrastructure, has been strongly criticised by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, all of which have competing territorial claims in the waterway.