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IN PHOTOS: Artificial China island can fit 3-km runway

MANILA, Philippines – While Manila waits for a first legal victory against Beijing before 2016, new satellite images show China finishing what could be an airstrip in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). 

The images of Zamora Reef (Subi Reef) in the Spratly Islands, located in the disputed sea, show "intensive preparation of terrain for a likely airstrip," according to analyst Victor Robert Lee. 

"A straight segment of reef that China has filled in with sand can easily accommodate a runway more than 3 kilometers long," Lee said in an article on Medium. 

This segment is around 250 meters wide.

Lee added that dredging on Subi Reef "had essentially been stopped."

"Two dredgers remain, only one of which is connected to a sediment pipe and may or may not be in operation; by contrast, on June 5, 2015, 14 dredgers were present. However, as of July 18, 54 large supply ships are present at Subi, up from 38 on June 5, signaling a ramp-up of construction now that land-filling operations have ceased (except for efforts to widen the terrain at the north rim)," Lee wrote.

With permission, Rappler is republishing these satellite images courtesy of Lee and DigitalGlobe. The images were taken on July 18. 

Subi Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea.

Photo courtesy of Victor Robert Lee/DigitalGlobe

Rappler is still trying to reach Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose for comment as of posting time. 

In June, Rappler published other photos of China's island building activities in the West Philippine Sea. Back then, the photos showed China has reclaimed a total of 383 hectares from the disputed waters.

China on June 16 said it is about to complete its island building activities in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: PH alarmed as China soon completes island building)

China builds these artificial islands as Manila pursues a historic case against Beijing before an arbitral tribunal in The Hague. Before the year ends, the tribunal is set to decide if it has the right to hear the case. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Philippines challenges China in The Hague)

Analyst Richard Javad Heydarian recently warned, "We have to acknowledge the limits of our legal strategy against China, and recognize the greater relevance of defending our claims inch by inch on the ground in the West Philippine Sea." – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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