CHINA - China may be building a new airstrip on a cluster of islands in the South China Sea, in a move that is further raising tensions in the already volatile area, the Philippines warned.
Surveillance photographs taken by the Philippine Navy showed China had been moving gravel and sand to the mostly submerged Johnson South Reef, a rocky outcrop that is part of the disputed Spratly island chain, Defence Department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.
It's a "sizeable reclamation", he told The Straits Times.
He declined to speculate what the Chinese are building, but Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose was quoted earlier in the day as saying it was an airstrip.
Chinese plans for a second airstrip have also been drawn up, a Philippine internal security analyst said.
In a statement yesterday, the Philippine Foreign Ministry said Manila lodged a protest on April 4 saying that the reclamation violates an informal "code of conduct" that bars claimants from building new structures in the South China Sea, but that Beijing dismissed it.
President Benigno Aquino also raised the issue behind closed doors at last weekend's ASEAN summit in Myanmar, it added.
If confirmed, the Johnson South Reef airstrip will be China's first on any of the eight reef islands it occupies in the Spratlys.