China is close to finishing the construction of a huge runway on a disputed part of the South China Sea. The Spratly islands, where the airstrip is being built, has been modified to fit many other things.
The airstrip, which is one of the first things China has constructed on the disputed area, has quickly taken shape and is now almost done, according to the images published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).
“Two helipads, up to 10 satellite communications antennas, and one possible radar tower are also visible,” said the Washington-based group, adding that many other things have been built on the island. The construction has caused controversy since the first satellite images were revealed a few months ago. The runway is long enough to fit heavy military transport planes and fighters. Images released two months ago showed that only around 30 percent of the airstrip had been done, letting the other countries involved know that the construction is going at a fast pace.
Even though China is hundreds of miles away from the disputed area, they believe most of the South China Sea is part of their territory. Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines and Brunei are all claiming part of the area.
Explanation From China
Japan and the United States are against what China is doing and environmentalists say it destroys the delicate reef ecology. The disputed area is a busy shipping route connecting to the Strait of Malacca and the Pacific. Many believe that it is rich in oil and gas.
China has said in the past that the construction of this airstrip and other buildings will be used for maritime search and disaster relief. China’s top diplomat, state councillor Yang Jiechi, said a few days ago that “navigation freedom in the South China Sea is guaranteed”.
“We do believe that there will not be any issue or problem with navigational freedom in future. We hope the US can be impartial and objective to serve peace and stability in this region,” he said after talks in Washington.
Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic & International Studies, said that the beginning of the typhoon season means that the country could stop its construction for a few weeks. She also mentioned that China’s President Xi Jinping will visit the U.S soon and that talks could end up convincing them to stop. “That said, I do think that activity will again pick up again, perhaps in the fall. The Chinese are going to continue with construction, militarization, but what we have over the summer is at least an opportunity for more dialogue,” she said.
Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of forcing their ships out of the area with various tactics. One of the incidents happened two months ago, when a Chinese fishing vessel destroyed a Vietnamese fishing boat by ramming it. In another incident, pilots from the Philippines were warned and told to leave when flying around the area.
Images published by AMTI also revealed that China built military facilities in another reef. The place also has two helipads, three satellite communications antennas, a port, and two loading stations.