BEIJING: China could be preparing to build a second 3,000-metre airstrip on an artificial island in the disputed West Philippine (South China) Sea, a Washington-based think-tank said.
China is already building a 3,000-metre (9,842 feet) runway on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, the longest in the area, which could ultimately be used for combat operations, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Airstrip building in the Kalayaan (Spratly) islands goes back nearly 40 years and four other claimants already have such facilities, according to CSIS’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
But China has been accused of seeking to advance its sovereignty claims with its land reclamation program and tensions have been rising in the West Philippine Sea.
The website said China’s airstrip on Kagitingan Reef, around 1,000 kilometers from the island province of Hainan just off the Chinese mainland, is in the “advanced stages” of construction, which began last year.
Satellite photos of another reef, Zamora (Subi), where nearly four million square meters of land have been reclaimed, indicate Beijing may be getting ready to build another strip of similar length there, it added.
“A Chinese airbase at Fiery Cross Reef would allow for much-improved situational awareness,” the website said, adding it could let China deploy maritime surveillance aircraft and fighter squadrons in the area.
“China may be more readily able to use the airbase for patrols or limited offensive operations against other South China Sea claimants, or even United States assets,” it added.
Taiwan is currently upgrading its 1,195 meter airstrip on Itu Aba island, CSIS said.
According to the website, Malaysia has the second-longest runway in the area on Celerio (Swallow) Reef at 1,368 meters. The Philippines’ strip is slightly shorter but with an “extremely worn” dirt surface.