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

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New Satellite Images of Disputed Hughes Reef in South China Sea Confirm China’s Expansion

Spratly Islands

(Photo : REUTERS / Stringer / Files) Motorboats anchor at a partially submerged island of Truong Sa islands or Spratly islands in this April 18, 2010 file photo.

Fresh satellite images confirm that China continues its expansion on Hughes Reef in South China Sea, one of the disputed islands that several Asian nations are claiming.

The images show that the artificial island now has two ports, a cement factory and a helipad. The reef, which measures 75,000 square yards or about 14 football fields, is just 210 miles from the Philippines, but 660 miles from China, notes the Wall Street Journal.

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The two nations are disputing ownership of the islands, along with Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.

The images were taken by Airbus's commercial satellite division and released by defense intelligence provider IHS Jane's. Besides Hughes Reef, China had also built similar infrastructure in two other disputed islands - Johnson South Reef and Gaven Reefs.

According to experts who have viewed the satellite images, Beijing is obviously constructing a network of island fortresses to give it more control over the South China Sea, a key shipping route.

Most of the constructions started in 2012, the year that Xi Jingping became president of China.

James Hardy, Asia Pacific editor of Jane's, told CNN: "We can see that this is a methodical, well-planned campaign to create a chain or air and sea capable fortresses across the center of the Spratly Islands chain."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russell said the constructions are destabilizing and at odds with Beijing's commitment to members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, the regional economic and political bloc.

Although China is not a member of the bloc, it inked a non-binding agreement with ASEAN wherein it committed not avoid provocative activities in the South China Sea, including inhabiting islands and reefs that used to be deserted.

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