China reef work in Spratlys could lead to new air exclusion zone: US commander


WASHINGTON – 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 over the disputed territory, the US military commander for Asia said on Wednesday.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, speaking at a congressional hearing in Washington, described as “aggressive” the land reclamation and construction projects China has been conducting at eight military outposts in the South China Sea.

The work involved “fairly massive” reclamation in the Spratly archipelago and upgrades to facilities in the Paracel Islands, he said.

The building in the Spratlys included better berthing space for ships, as well as what was presumed to be an airfield on the Fiery Cross Reef, Locklear, head of the US Pacific Command, said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.

It would allow China to deploy more patrol ships in the area and to base and resupply them, he said.

“It allows them to exert basically greater influence over what’s now a contested area. Expanded land features down there also could eventually lead to the deployment of things such as long-range radars, military, and advanced missile systems,” he said.

“And it might be a platform if they ever wanted to establish an air defense zone.”

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