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Report: Vietnam Expands Military Runway in South China Sea


A Vietnamese floating guard station is seen on Truong Sa islands or Spratly islands in this April 12, 2010 picture. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Vietnam is extending a military runway on a small island in the South China Sea, according to an American-based research group.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says the Vietnamese government is developing one of the Spratly Islands. It said the runway was once 762 meters long, but now stretches 1,005 meters from end to end.

The center published satellite images to support its findings.

The CSIS says the longer runway will make it easier for Vietnamese surveillance aircraft to operate in the South China Sea. Vietnam is also building airplane hangars there, the group said.

The Spratly Islands are made up of many small islands, known as islets, coral reefs, and other land formations in the sea. China, Taiwan and Vietnam each have claimed much of the area and its natural resources. Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the waterway.

Vietnam is extending the runway because of Chinese efforts to develop military bases in the Spratly Islands, CSIS said.

China’s activities in the area have increased tensions with its neighbors. They also have raised concerns in Japan and the United States.

The Chinese government has reclaimed land on several disputed reefs by dredging, and also built airfields and ports.

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the U.S. Navy, May 21, 2015.
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the U.S. Navy, May 21, 2015.

Vietnam has already completed landfill work on 27 small islets in the South China Sea - more than any other claimant. It has also bought submarines and spent a lot of money on other military equipment over the past eight years, observers say.

Adam McCarty is an economist at Mekong Economics in Hanoi. He says Vietnam needs to be careful about how it reacts to Chinese moves in the sea. “They don’t really want to provoke China, but they also can’t just let China do whatever it wants to do.”

The South China Sea is an important waterway through which more than $5 trillion worth in trade passes each year. The area is filled with rich fishing grounds and believed to hold oil and natural gas.

McCarty adds that as China keeps developing disputed islands, Vietnam’s claims will likely be harder to defend.

Last week, the Philippines announced plans to build a seaport in the South China Sea next year. Officials said the port would greatly improve access for people living on the island of Thitu.

In this photo provided by Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members, wearing black caps and orange life vests, approach Filipino fishermen as they confront them off Scarborough Shoal at South China Sea in northwestern Philippines, Sept. 23, 2015.
In this photo provided by Renato Etac, Chinese Coast Guard members, wearing black caps and orange life vests, approach Filipino fishermen as they confront them off Scarborough Shoal at South China Sea in northwestern Philippines, Sept. 23, 2015.

About 200 fishermen live on the island, as do about 50 Philippine military troops.

In addition, the proposed port will also provide better access to the other eight Philippine-claimed areas in the Spratly Islands.

Lawmaker Johnny Pimentel said the Philippine government has set aside about $9 million for work on the island. He said the port will make it easier for more people to settle there.

The Philippines has occupied Thitu Island since 1970. It is the second largest island in the Spratlys.

Plans for building a seaport there began in 2012. But the project was halted after the Philippines asked an international court to consider Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

In July, the court ruled against China, rejecting the government’s historical claims to large areas of the sea. China has disputed the ruling.​

Since the ruling was announced, Pimentel has urged the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to restart oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.

But analysts say additional moves to expand economically or militarily in the South China Sea are likely to lead to reactions from other claimants, especially China.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News.com. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

surveillance adj. intelligence-gathering

hangar – n. a large building where aircraft are kept

dredging - v. to dig out and clear material from a body of water

provoke - v. to do something that angers others or causes them to take action

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