China appears to be building a third airstrip in contested territory in the South China Sea, a U.S. expert said on Monday, citing satellite photographs taken last week.
The photographs taken for Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank on Sept. 8 show construction on Mischief Reef, one of several artificial islands China has created in the Spratly archipelago.
The images show a rectangular area with a retaining wall, 3,000 meters (3,280 yards) long, matching similar work by China on two other reefs, Subi and Fiery Cross, said Greg Poling, director of CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).
“Clearly, what we have seen is going to be a 3,000-meter airstrip and we have seen some more work on what is clearly going to be some port facilities for ships,” he said.
Security experts say the strip would be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft, giving Beijing greater reach into the heart of maritime Southeast Asia, where it has competing claims with several countries.
News of the work comes ahead of a visit to Washington next week by Chinese President Xi Jinping. U.S. worries about China’s increasingly assertive territorial claims are expected to be high on the agenda.
A new airstrip at Mischief Reef would be particularly worrying for the Philippines, a rival claimant in the South China Sea. It would allow China to mount “more or less constant” patrols over Reed Bank, where the Philippines has long explored for oil and gas, Poling said. Read more