What, exactly, is China constructing in the disputed Spratly Islands, where heavy-duty construction, ocean dredging, and the possible foundation for an airstrip have been reported for months?
The BBC took a shot this week after traveling through the disputed seas, reporting that China “seems to be preparing to build an air base with a concrete runway long enough for fighter jets to take off and land” near the Johnson Reef, also known as the Mabini. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman declined to answer specific questions about the construction.
But a more decisive answer came today, in the form of an op-ed that ran in both the Chinese state-run People’s Daily and the state-sanctioned tabloid the Global Times. Yes, China is installing an airbase in the South China Sea, it seems to confirm, without actually using the word “yes.”
“China is in urgent need of ‘an airbase’ in the Nansha Islands [China’s name for the Spratly’s] to cope with the complicated scenario,” the op-ed states. Vietnam and the Philippines have “virtually pushed China into a corner,” it says, because of their citizens’ migration to disputed islands, and their own construction. It adds a warning note: “Any notion of defying Beijing’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands or underestimating its resolve and ability to safeguard this sovereignty, is misplaced in its conception.”