Updated 8:47 AM EST, Fri, Mar 05, 2021

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China Says Construction at Disputed Reef for Intelligence Gathering Use

Spratlys Islands

(Photo : Reuters) Vietnamese fishing boats are seen near Da Tay island in the Spratly archipelago January 5, 2013.

Col. Jin Zirui of the Chinese Air Force Headquarters justified the ongoing construction of an airstrip at Fiery Cross Reef, one of the islands in the Spratlys that is being disputed by several Asian nations.

The base under construction is intended as support for China's radar system and gathering of intel, Asahi quoted Col. Jin on Saturday at the Xiangshan Forum, a dialogue that tackled national security issues.

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He pointed to China Air Force's participation in searching for the lost Malaysia Airlines MH370 jet, which had Chinese passengers, as his point of realization that the country's air force does not have enough capabilities in the area, according to the report.

Col. Jin stressed that they need to establish an operations base in the South China Sea to beef up their nation's security and guard China's interest, the report relayed.

But even if there are 50 reefs and islands in the Nansha, as how China refers to the Spratlys, China has the least number under its control and it was "the last to make advances there," said Jin.

IHS Jane, a defense magazine based in Hong Kong, published over the weekend satellite images showing that China is building an island on a reef which appears to be big enough to be an offshore airstrip in the Spratly. The Philippnes, China, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia are all claiming the Spratlys.

IHS Jane reported that the construction spans 3,000 meters in length and 200-300 meters in width. In the last 12 to 18 months, it has been China's fourth land reclamation projected in the Spratly Islands and the largest.

Previously, China claimed and built on Johnson South Reef, Cuateron Reef and Gaven Reef, the report detailed.

China plans to establish an air base in Fiery Cross Reef in addition to the other equipment and facilities already there, according to Hong Kong media, but the deputy head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Boundary and Ocean Affairs Departments claimed in August that he is not aware of those plans.

The U.S. has called on all nations involved in the territorial dispute to stop all activities to lessen tension. But China has thumbed down Washington and insisted it could build anything it wants to build in the disputed waters.

"Given its massive military advantage, this new islands appears purpose-built to coerce other claimants into relinquishing their claims and possessions..." IHS Jane said of China's intrasigence.

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