China is staking a serious claim in contested territory in the South China Sea, as the country appears to building its third airstrip in the territory. Satellite photographs provided by Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies have been documenting China’s activity in the region.
The images from Mischief Reef match similar work by China on two other islands in the region. Mischief Reef is an artificial island that China has created in the area.
China has already constructed airstrips on the islands of Subi and Fiery Cross.
In the images, China appears to be working within a rectangular area, complete with a 3,000 meter long retaining wall.
Expert Greg Poling says “Clearly, what we have seen is going to be a 3,000m airstrip and we have seen some more work on what is clearly going to be some port facilities for ships.”
According to security officials, the strip would be able to accommodate most Chinese military airplanes. This strip would provide China’s military with easier access into the heart of maritime Southeast Asia. China has competing claims with multiple countries in the region.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning a visit to Washington D.C. next week. Concerns by the United States about China’s territorial claims are expected to be a major topic of discussion.
United States Defense Department spokesperson Commander Bill Urban would not comment on the situation. However he restated demands for the stopping of land reclamation, construction, and militarization of the South China Sea, in order to “ease tensions and create space for diplomatic solutions.”