WASHINGTON – Satellite images show China is building an island on a reef in the disputed Spratly Islands large enough to accommodate what could be its first offshore airstrip in the South China Sea, a leading defense publication said on Friday.
The construction has stoked concern that China may be converting disputed territory in the mineral-rich archipelago into military installations, adding to tensions waters also claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.
IHS Jane’s said images it had obtained showed the Chinese-built island on the Fiery Cross Reef to be at least 3,000 meters (1.9 miles) long and 200-300 meters (660-980 ft) wide, which it noted is “large enough to construct a runway and apron.”
The building work flies in the face of U.S. calls for a freeze in provocative activity in the South China Sea, one of Asia’s biggest security issues. Concern is growing about an escalation in disputes even as claimants work to establish a code of conduct to resolve them.
Dredgers were also creating a harbor to the east of the reef “that would appear to be large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants,” it said.