WASHINGTON - China has nearly completed two more runways on artificial islands in a disputed area in the South China Sea, a U.S. think tank said Friday, adding that Beijing appears to be speeding up construction work to claim sovereignty in the area.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank in Washington, revealed the finding after China conducted a first series of test flights earlier this month on a runway it already built in the Spratly Islands.
The United States believes China has built or is building airstrips on artificial islands on at least three reefs through massive reclamation in the Spratlys, where China is involved in territorial disputes with other claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
According to the CSIS, in addition to an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, where China did the test flights, China has almost finished the construction of an airstrip with a 2,644-meter runway on Mischief Reef and another with a 3,250-meter runway on Subi Reef.
The airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef took at least seven months to construct, but "at Mischief, where grading began in September or October, construction is already approaching completion just three to four months later," the think tank said.
The Philippines says Mischief Reef lies within its exclusive economic zone.
China has also constructed various facilities on Subi Reef, including a seawall, docks and a tower reaching some 30 meters high, the CSIS said.
The United States has said that under a U.N. convention, no territorial claim can be recognized to artificial islands built on submerged reefs, and has urged China to refrain from any acts that could raise tension in the area.
All three reefs were submerged before China began reclamation.