Satellite photos show China has been rapidly building military outposts on disputed islands in the South China Sea, significantly boosting its presence in the already tense region, according to a Pentagon report released Friday.
“China continues to invest in military programs and weapons designed to improve power projection, anti-access area denial and operations in emerging domains such as cyberspace, space and the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.
The report to Congress reveals that China has added over 3,200 acres to the seven sites it occupies in the South China Sea during the last two years.
On these artificial island sites, China has excavated deep channels to improve access to its outposts, created artificial harbors, dredged natural harbors and constructed new berthing areas to allow access for larger ships, according to the Pentagon’s annual China Military Power report.
Each of the three largest outposts will have an airfield and each of those will have a runway approximately 9,800 feet long, the report said.
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While the U.S. says that under international law these artificial islands do not provide China with any additional territorial or maritime rights within the South China Sea, the Pentagon warns that they will significantly enhance the Communist nation’s long-term presence in the area.
China’s military modernization program entered a new phase in 2015,” Denmark said, and assessed that, “China’s leaders seem committed to sustaining defense spending growth for the foreseeable future.”
China also has made significant improvement to its weapons capabilities over the last year, the Pentagon said, modernizing its short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, high-performance aircraft, integrated air defense networks, information operations capabilities and amphibious and airborne assault units.
During a military parade in September 2015, China unveiled its new “Guam killer” missile, which is capable of hitting targets 3,400 miles away — including Guam, where the U.as military bases — and is raising new fears of a growing Chinese threat to major U.S. military installations and stability in the Pacific Rim.