MANILA - The Philippines is set to release fresh photos showing China building another airstrip-capable island in the South China Sea, as nearly 12,000 soldiers from the United States and the Philippines today begin a 10-day joint military exercise that will be the largest in 15 years.
China is building a vast land mass on Subi reef, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Cabunoc, a Philippine military spokesman, told reporters yesterday.
Subi is just 25km from Thitu island, which at 37ha is the second-largest of the Spratly island chain and is considered a district of Kalayaan town in Palawan province.
Satellite images provided by Airbus and released last Thursday by Jane's Defence Weekly showed three islands being created on Subi in February.
By March 5, at least nine dredgers were creating larger land masses on the reef that, if joined together, could create enough land for a 3km airstrip.
"Subi is very, very close to Pag-Asa (Thitu). We want to show the latest pictures, the latest images to show the aggressiveness of China… Concrete actions have to be done. We want to show other countries that this will affect them because they use these sea lanes," said Lt-Col Cabunoc.
China has already built artificial islands with provisions for at least two airstrips and buildings the size of large shopping malls in six reefs in the Spratly chain of islands - Gaven, Johnson South, Cuarteron, Hughes, Fiery Cross and Mischief.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, the US' most senior military commander for Asia, warned last week that China could gain "de facto control of some of the world's most important waterways" with its "astonishing" island-building programme.
Amid China's territorial expansion, the annual joint US-Philippine military exercise dubbed "Balikatan" (shoulder-to-shoulder) kicks off today.
The US is sending twice the number of servicemen from last year, but American and Philippine officials insist the build-up is not directed at China.
The US sent a smaller force last year because of the budget sequestration in 2013 that led to cuts in government spending, a senior US official coordinating the exercise earlier told The Straits Times.
The military drills will be conducted throughout the Philippines, including coastal areas west of the main island of Luzon and Palawan province that face the South China Sea.
This article was first published on April 20, 2015.
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