China is making rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in contested territory in the South China Sea, according to new satellite images.

The facility, on reclaimed land around a reef, would be big enough for fighter jets and surveillance aircraft. IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly said images from Airbus Defence and Space, taken on 23 March, showed the runway on Fiery Cross reef in the disputed Spratly archipelago already stretched to 500m and had room to grow to six times that length. Paved sections of apron were also visible.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea in a complex dispute which also involves the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Tensions have risen in recent years, due partly to growing interest in the area’s energy reserves and partly to broader anxieties about China’s rise and increasing assertiveness. The sea boasts valuable fisheries and is a crucial shipping route.

IHS Jane’s said that earlier images from another reef in the Spratlys showed reclamation work that could potentially create space for another 3,000 metre airstrip and that others suggested China was working to extend an existing airstrip in the Paracel Islands to the same length.

Read the Full Article: Source – The Guardian

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