China’s Just Finished A Runway On A Reef In The South China Sea

Satellite images show Chinese construction on Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed South China Sea

Sep 25, 2015 at 2:18 PM ET

New satellite images show a completed military runway China has built on a reclaimed reef in the disputed South China Sea, which observers say could allow the Chinese military to begin patrols in the hotly-contested waters.

The images, from IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, come as Chinese President Xi Jinping met with President Barack Obama Friday and said China would respect lawful flights over the area, but claimed territorial sovereignty allowed China to fortify its presence there.

The images taken on September 20 show helipads and a runway that is over 3,000 meters (1.86 miles) long. “The completion of the runway … will allow China to accelerate construction of infrastructure and potentially start air patrols over the Spratly Islands, which are claimed and occupied by a number of countries,” Jane’s said.

More China’s Claim On The South China Sea Sparks Global Tension

Jane’s reported that construction continues on Fiery Cross Reef, with workers spotted fixing a seawall in a harbor and pouring concrete to make roads. “They also appear to have dumped topsoil along the side of the runway; this may be the first attempts to grow food on the island or just be the start of landscaping designed to prevent erosion,” Jane’s said.

During a joint press conference Friday, President Obama said the U.S. does not have a claim on the islands in the South China Sea, but said he and Xi have agreed to open new communications channels to prevent confrontations between the two nations’ militaries in the future. Recently, Chinese navy patrols warned U.S. military aircraft away from airspace over an island China was reclaiming.

Along with China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim to own different islands in the South China Sea, one of the world’s most strategic shipping routes.