According to satellite images, China appears to be building an airstrip on a disputed island in the South China Sea that is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

Work on Triton Island in the Paracel Group mirrors construction on seven man-made islands formerly in the Spratly Group which are equipped with airstrips, docks and military systems, although at present it appears to be on a somewhat modest scale.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, denying the claims of others, and defying international rulings that invalidate its claims.

Satellite photos from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press show construction on the airstrip for the first time as early as August. News website The Drive first reported on the satellite images on Tuesday.

The runway, as currently laid out, would be over 600 m (2,000 ft) long, which would be sufficient to accommodate turboprop aircraft and drones, but not fighter jets or bombers.

A large number of vehicle tracks are also visible across much of the island, as well as containers and construction equipment.

Triton is one of the major islands of the Paracels, roughly equidistant from the coast of Vietnam and the island province of Hainan, China.

The US does not take a position on sovereignty claims, but regularly sends Navy ships on freedom of navigation operations near Chinese-occupied islands. Triton was the focus of one of those missions in 2018.

China has had a small port and buildings on the island for years, along with a helipad and radar array. The two large plains on the island bear a star of the Chinese flag and a hammer and sickle representing the ruling Communist Party.

China has declined to give details of its island construction work, other than to say it aims to help global navigation safety. It has rejected allegations that it is militarising the vital waterway, through which an estimated USD 5 trillion in trade passes annually, and says it has the right to do whatever it wants in its sovereign territory.

In a brief 1974 naval conflict, China wrested full control of the Paracels from Vietnam.

(Only the headline and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content was auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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