China Appears To Be Building Runway on Disputed South China Sea Island

This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows Triton Island in the South China Sea on Feb. 20, 2023. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

China appears to be constructing a runway on a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan in its latest move to claim sovereignty in the contested waters, a Hong Kong newspaper reported Friday citing satellite images.

The South China Morning Post said what appears to be a 630-meter-long airstrip was seen last month on Triton Island, part of the disputed Paracel Islands, in images taken by the European Space Agency.

Triton Island, the southernmost and westernmost of the Paracel Islands, has been under Chinese control since 1974 following a naval conflict.

runway South China Sea
This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows Triton Island in the South China Sea on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Vietnamese and Chinese authorities have yet to respond to requests for comment, according to the report.

At a press conference on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin defended the construction of the runway, saying that Triton Island is “part of China’s inherent territory” and what Beijing has done there is “consistent with international law and beyond reproach.”

China and Vietnam have ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In April, Beijing opened a hotpot restaurant on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands, triggering criticism from Hanoi.

China has also built runways on the Spratly Islands, another group of disputed isles in the South China Sea.

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