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article imageChina airstrip nears completion on disputed Spratly islands

By Nathan Salant     Jul 4, 2015 in Travel
Washington - A new 10,000-foot airstrip being built by China in the Spratly islands near The Philippines is nearly complete, suggesting the start of new aggressiveness in the region by the world's most populous country.
The airstrip, built on newly reclaimed land at Fiery Cross Reef, appears to be part of an increased role for China's military in the strategic waterway that sees more than $5 billion in trade pass through each year.
The new runway is large enough to handle military aircraft and other structures being built on the island suggest a permanent military presence, according to the Reuters news service.
Military construction also appears to be in progress at South Johnson Reef, Reuters said.
China also is building seven new islands above coral reefs in the 100-island archipelago, satellite photographs indicate.
The airstrip could be operational by the end of this year, a U.S. military commander said in May, although new photographs made public last week could speed that timetable.
China admitted Tuesday that some of its reclamation projects in the Spratlys had been completed, Reuters said.
The new photos were released by Digital Globe, a satellite imagery firm, and published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
AMTI told Reuters that the airstrip was being paved, a taxiway had been paved and as many as 10 communications satellites and two helipads had been added to the reef.
Construction at South Johnson Reef appears to be a multistory military facility and two radar towers, Reuters said, and land reclamation projects appear to be proceeding at Mischief Reef and Subi Reef.
China's foreign ministry acknowledged its island building in the region last year, but assured worried neighbors that its new facilities were designed to help with maritime search and rescue, and navigation, and had little military application.
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