New satellite imagery shows that China appears to be building an aircraft runway on a disputed island in the South China Sea, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
A comparison of satellite imagery taken in February and August 2023 by Planet Labs PBC reveals that China may be building a nearly 2,000 foot airstrip on the disputed Triton Islands located within the Paracels, according to AP. Although Vietnam and Taiwan also lay claim to the Paracel Islands, China has maintained effective control over the territory since 1974, when Chinese forces overran U.S.-allied South Vietnamese troops stationed in the area, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.
While previous satellite images showed buildings, a harbor and a helipad, the new photos reveal construction equipment, containers and vehicle track marks on Triton Island, according to AP.
When completed, the airstrip could be used by smaller aircraft and drones, but may be too short for fighter jets and bombers, AP reported.
Satellite imagery also reveals that two large fields on Triton Island have been repurposed to resemble large flags when viewed from above, with one field featuring the hammer and sickle of the Chinese Communist Party’s flag and the other sporting a star to resemble the flag of the People’s Republic of China, the AP reported.
Eight large Chinese characters have also been written into the ground beside the two fields reading: “The Party shines brightly! Long live the motherland!,” according to NBC News.
“The South China Sea (SCS) plays an important role in security considerations across East Asia because Northeast Asia relies heavily on the flow of oil and commerce through SCS shipping lanes,” according to the Pentagon’s 2022 report on China’s military.
The Paracel Islands are approximately 220 miles southeast of China’s Hainan Island and 250 miles east of Vietnam, according to Britannica.
In April 2021, China officially announced two new administrative zones covering the Paracel and Spratly Islands, according to the Pentagon’s report.
The Spratly Islands are located between Vietnam and the Philippines and claimed by both countries, according to Britannica. Although China has added anti-aircraft guns and other weapons to the artificial islands it’s built in the Spratlys, it has denied that it is militarizing the region.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has projected its power further afield in recent years and has violated Taiwan’s air defense identification zone over 1,400 times since President Joe Biden came into office.
The PLA Navy is the “largest navy in the world with a battle force of approximately 340 platforms, including major surface combatants, submarines, ocean-going amphibious ships, mine warfare ships, aircraft carriers and fleet auxiliaries,” according to the Pentagon’s 2022 report on China’s military.
China’s growing fleet added its third aircraft carrier, Fujian, in June 2022, Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times reported. Fujian is the first Chinese aircraft carrier “designed and built completely” by China, according to the official website of China’s military.
China’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, is a refurbished Soviet ship, and China’s second aircraft carrier, Shandong, is modeled on the Liaoning.
The Chinese Embassy did not respond immediately to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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