China has almost finished building a 3,000-metre-long airstrip on one of its artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, according to a report from Reuters.
The airstrip, located on Fiery Cross reef which makes up part of the Spratly islands archipelago, will be long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft and may be operational within months based on a satellite photograph published by the Asia Maritime Transparency initiative (AMTI) last month.
The photo shows the main airstrip was in the process of being marked and paved. Two helipads, along with up to 10 satellite communications antennas, were also visible.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, according to Reuters.
The construction of the artificial islands, which started last year, has seen geopolitical tension across Southeast Asia intensify sharply and drawn criticism from several nations, including the United States.
Beijing has repeatedly stated the maritime outposts will have undefined military purposes, as well as help with maritime search and rescue, disaster relief and navigation.