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Beijing resumes military construction on disputed shoal in South China Sea

China has broken a pledge to halt reclamation activities in the South China Sea, according to recent satellite images.

By
Elizabeth Shim
Chinese dredging vessels are seen near Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in this May 2 photo. Washington has voiced concern over China's island-building efforts in the South China Sea and Beijing has recently broken a promise to end land reclamation. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
Chinese dredging vessels are seen near Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in this May 2 photo. Washington has voiced concern over China's island-building efforts in the South China Sea and Beijing has recently broken a promise to end land reclamation. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- China has resumed military construction in the South China Sea after it had promised in August all land reclamation would be abandoned.

Recent satellite images from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., indicated China was building a third airstrip on Mischief Reef, CNN reported.

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The images from Sept. 8 indicated China had broken its pledge to end reclamation in disputed waters – by reclaiming a flat rectangle of land with a retaining wall about 3,000 meters, or 3,280 yards, in length on Mischief Reef. According to Greg Poling, the director of CSIS's Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, the airstrip was similar to those China has built on artificial islands at the Fiery Cross and Subi reefs.

"If it does turn out to be a runway, China will have three airstrips that can carry any plane the PLA (People's Liberation Army) has to offer," Poling said.

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The United States has urged China to bring an end to maritime activities that have drawn protests from neighboring countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Each country has claimed the disputed Spratly Islands as its own.

Last week The Washington Post reported satellite photos from CSIS showed another airstrip for military use had been built on Subi Reef, a formerly submerged shoal that Beijing has reclaimed to build an area about 200 feet wide and nearly 1.4 miles long.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to meet with President Obama next week in Washington, but the recent activities in disputed waters pose a problem for the United States, according to Michael J. Green, a senior vice president at CSIS.

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"This is a challenge for the White House," Green said. "How do they talk about this? Do they say, 'Don't militarize these islands,' knowing that the Chinese will do it anyway? Do they say, 'Don't continue construction,' when it's obvious that it will continue anyway?"

Green said Chinese officials have privately told him the reefs are to be militarized with planes, anti-aircraft weapons and naval vessels.

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