China is building a massive island on the Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands that could be the first airstrip in the South China Sea, a leading defense publication says.
Referring to satellite images, it added on Friday that the project has raised concern about China’s possible intention to “convert disputed territory in the mineral-rich archipelago into military installations.”
According to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, the Chinese-built island will be at least 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide which is “large enough to construct a runway and apron.”
A harbor also has been dug out on the eastern part of the reef “that would appear to be large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants,” it added.
“The land reclamation at Fiery Cross is the fourth such project undertaken by China in the Spratly Islands in the last 12-18 months and by far the largest in scope,” the report said.
The US has called on China to freeze what it calls the provocative project in the South China Sea, one of Asia’s biggest security issues.
“We urge China to stop its land reclamation program, and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all sides to restrain themselves in these sorts of activities,” a US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Pool said.
A colonel with the Chinese air force command on Saturday declined to confirm the construction of the vast island but said Beijing needs to build facilities in the South China Sea for strategic reasons.
“We need to go out, to make our contribution to regional and global peace. We need support like this, including radar and intelligence,” Jin said.
Tensions have grown over the past year between China and its neighbors over a group of islands and waters in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea — which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. The waters are believed to sit atop vast reserves of oil and gas.
China is also involved in a separate territorial dispute with Japan after Tokyo nationalized part of the resource-rich and strategically-important uninhabited islands in the East China Sea in 2012.