Chinese fighter aircrafts and bombers have carried out drills near Taiwan-controlled islands, while startling new satellite images suggest China may be building military bases on artificial islands.
Taiwan’s air force scrambled for a second straight day on Saturday (local time) after a dozen Chinese fighter aircrafts and bombers carried out drills close to Taiwan-controlled islands in the disputed South China Sea.
Beijing, which claims Taiwan as Chinese territory, has carried out repeated air missions in the southwestern corner of Taiwan’s air defence identification zone in recent months, mostly near the Pratas Islands.
After nine Chinese air force aircrafts flew near the Pratas Islands on Friday, the Taiwanese Defence Ministry said it tracked 11 planes on Saturday - eight fighter jets, two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers and an anti-submarine aircraft, also near the islands.
It said Chinese naval forces were also involved but gave no details.
Taiwan’s air force warned the Chinese aircrafts to leave and deployed missile systems to monitor the activity, the ministry said.
US calls for Beijing to 'cease military pressure on Taiwan'
China has not commented on the last two days of activities. It previously said such manoeuvres were a response to “collusion” between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan’s main international backer and weapons supplier, and to safeguard Chinese sovereignty.
A spokesman for the US State Department on Saturday repeated a call for Beijing “to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan,” adding that it should “instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives.”
The Pratas Islands sit in the top part of the South China Sea and are also claimed by China.
Lying roughly between southern Taiwan and Hong Kong, they are only lightly defended by Taiwan and are considered by some security experts as vulnerable to Chinese attack due to their distance - more than 400 km - from mainland Taiwan.
Chinese aircrafts fly in the southwestern corner of Taiwan’s air defence zone on an almost daily basis, though the last such large-scale activity was on January 24 when 12 Chinese fighters were involved.
Taiwan on Friday unveiled a reshuffle of senior security officials, including the appointment of a new, US-trained defence minister, to help bolster military modernisation and intelligence efforts in the face of what it sees as a rising Chinese threat.
New report shows new structures in South China Sea
Simularity, a US software company which tracks significant changes to an area using AI and Geospatial data, has released startling images of what looks to be a recently built structure on Mischief Reef, in the South China Sea.
The Simularity report shows seven sites with "before" images from May 2020 and "after" images from February 2021 with new structures, the reef has been controlled by China since the mid-1990s.
"The addition of new radars appears to indicate they're really expanding the capabilities of this artificial island," Dr Jay Batongbacal from the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea told ANC, according to Express.
"And then the fact it is continuing despite everything that has been going on in the rest of the world, it really indicates the intention of China to really fully develop these artificial islands into full-blown military bases."
Site Number One shows construction of what appears to be a "permanent cylindrical structure", which Simularity notes is 16 metres in diameter and construction started in December last year.
It is possible it is an antenna mount structure.
US-based tech firm @simularity releases images showing China continues #SouthChinaSea construction in Mischief Reef since late 2020 until now, amid the pandemic. FULL details here: https://t.co/3rzqZSe3yb pic.twitter.com/gtX6x5m0CZ
— South China Sea Connect (@Scs_Connect) February 18, 2021
Site Number Six appears to be where a portside is being constructed, Simularity notes construction started between October 22 and November 23 last year.
"There appears to be construction equipment and a raised, rectangular area constructed adjacent to the port quay," Simularity said in the report.
Site Number Five also appears to be a new area of portside construction, which started between October and November last year.
The technology also observed structures on Site Number two were cleared and a new building was built between the same dates in October and November last year.
The new structure is located just 20 metres south of where the now-cleared buildings initially stood.
The new structure on site two is described in the report as: "a concrete structure with a large radome cover" and the new structure may be a "fixed radar structure".
Sites Three, Four and Seven appear to have been cleared, though Site Three might be where future construction occurs
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