China may be building second air strip in Spratlys – think-tank
CHINA may be building a second airstrip on a reef near the second largest of the Spratly Islands being occupied by the Philippines and which is being claimed by three claimant-countries, according to the Washington-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“China’s artificial island at Subi Reef, which may eventually house an airstrip, is just 14 kilometers away from Thitu Island (Pag-asa) which, which is home to the Philippines’ only airstrip in the Spratlys,” said Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, CSIS fellow of Asia Program and director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
The Philippines has a landing strip (Rancudo Airfield) with two commercial flights weekly and a small harbor in Pag-asa.
China is already building a 3,000-meter (9,842 feet) runway on Fiery Cross reef, the longest in the area, which security experts say is already in the advanced stages and could ultimately be used for military operations. The reef is around 1,000 kilometers from the island province of Hainan.
Hooper noted that China’s new island at Johnson Reef is only 6.2 kilometers away from Collins Reef, and its outpost at Hughes Reef is just 14 km away from Sin Cowe Island, which are both held by Vietnam.
“Given these short distances, moves by China to significantly augment the flow of vessels and aircraft through these outposts would increase the risk of accidental or inadvertent escalation between the claimants, which could in turn result in armed conflict,” Hooper stressed.
In her testimony, titled “Security Dimensions of China’s Relations with Southeast Asia,” before the US-China Security and Review Commission of the US Congress on May 15, 2015, Hooper said that China’s land reclamation efforts appeared to follow a four-step process:
* China sends in dredging ships to expand the channels around a given land feature;
* They then dredge up sand from the sea bed and deposit it on the reef or rock to create terrain above the water line;
* They use concrete to construct sea walls and prepare the surface of the new landmass for construction;
* They begin to construct military and civilian facilities on the island.
Each of China’s artificial islands is disputed between China and at least one other South China Sea claimant, according to Hooper. At least three of these artificial islands – Hughes Reef, Johnson South Reef, and Mischief Reef – are within the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines from its nearest primary landmass, Palawan.
According to the CSIS website, satellite photos of Subi, where nearly four million square meters (988 acres) of land have been reclaimed, indicate China may be preparing for the second airstrip.
“A Chinese airbase at Fiery Cross Reef would allow for much-improved situational awareness,” it said.
“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.
Col. Restituto Padilla, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said the military had no report or sighting of a new airstrip being constructed in Subi reef, thus it could not confirm the CSIS report.
Padilla said he has not read the CSIS report on Subi reef constructions, but said this report was based on the facts gathered by the academe-based think-tank.
“I did not confirm that there is a second airstrip (being built by China),” Padilla said when asked to comment on the CSIS report.
“In the US, the academe also conducts its own report and make an assessment so it is based on factual reports. But from our side, we don’t want to confirm anymore. You have to take it as it is,” he added.
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