China is engaged in something more than mere mischief on Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, new satellite images have revealed. The Center for Strategic and International Studies says photos show that China is building an airstrip on an artificial island it has created, which would be its third large airstrip in the strategic South China Sea island chain, reports CNN, which notes that the photos were taken after China promised to halt land reclamation in the area. CSIS analysts say the nearly 2-mile airstrip will be big enough to take any plane the Chinese military has.
Earlier satellite images revealed the construction of airstrips at Subi and Fiery Cross, and a CSIS analyst tells Reuters that with a third airstrip, China will be able to have "more or less constant" patrols in the area, which is also claimed in full or in part by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. Over the last year, China has rapidly built what worried US commanders have called the "Great Wall of Sand." "All of these places have gone from being outposts on stilts to full islands, potentially with airstrips, within the space of a year or just over a year," a CSIS analyst tells CNN. The US has repeatedly expressed concerns about the construction, which is expected to be high on the agenda when Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the US next week. (Read more China stories.)