China appears to be building an airstrip on a disputed island in the South China Sea

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HONG KONG — China appears to be building an airstrip on a disputed island that is also claimed by two of its neighbors, adding to tensions with the United States and others in the South China Sea.

Satellite images of Triton Island — one of the major islands in the Paracel group, and also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan — suggest construction of a runway almost 2,000 feet long, according to analysts.

The strategically important South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes, has emerged as an increasing flashpoint between Washington and Beijing, playing host to a sprawling set of incidents as tensions between the two superpowers have risen in recent years.

The satellite photos from Planet Labs PBC, taken on Feb. 20 and Aug. 15 respectively, appear to show construction similar to what China has done on seven other artificial islands in the Spratly group to the east, which were equipped with complete airstrips and other military devices, according to the Associated Press. 

The construction on Triton Island appears to be less extensive, however, as there are many blank spaces covered with greenery and sand.

The runway there would be long enough to accommodate small aircraft and drones but not bombers or fighter jets, the AP reported. 

“It certainly shows the beginnings of an airfield being constructed on an island,” said Raymond Powell, who studies China’s maritime strategy at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.

Powell, who did tours in the Philippines and Vietnam during more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, said the runway would most likely be used for “the delivery of supplies by short-field transports, but probably patrol aircraft, either manned or unmanned.”



POST AUTHOR: Larissa Gao and Riley Zhang and The Associated Press

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