by WorldTribune Staff, February 7, 2018
China has transformed several islands in the South China Sea into military fortresses, aerial photos obtained by a newspaper in the Philippines show.
The photos, taken from 1,500 meters up in the last six months of 2017, show China constructed runways, helipads and observation towers on seven reefs in the disputed Spratly islands, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The Pentagon reported last summer that “As of late 2016, China was constructing 24 fighter-sized hangars, fixed-weapons positions, barracks, administration buildings, and communication facilities at three outposts. Once all these facilities are complete, China will have the capacity to house up to three regiments of fighters in the Spratly Islands.”
Related: Pentagon report: China advances in taking military control of strategic Pacific sea lanes, June 7, 2017
One of the fortresses was reportedly constructed on Panganiban, a reef which a United Nations-backed court has previously ruled belongs to the Philippines.
The photos revealed that runways on the three largest reefs, Kagitingan, Panganiban and Zamora, appeared to be ready to receive military aircraft.
A U.S. think tank in December released satellite photos showing the deployment of radar and other military equipment on the disputed islands. Beijing defended the construction as “normal.”
China’s ongoing buildup in the South China Sea “has eroded trust among rival claimants and could raise regional tensions,” Southeast Asian foreign ministers said on Feb. 6.
Related: Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff insists U.S. not leaving Asia; War with N. Korea would be ‘nasty’, February 6, 2018
While China claims almost all of the sea as its territory, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims in the waterway through which about one-third of global shipping transits.