China’s mysterious campaign to build artificial islands in disputed waters of the South China Sea has grown to cover roughly 2,000 acres, a senior defense official said Friday, as the Pentagon issued a report warning the sites could be used to bolster the country’s military infrastructure.
The assessments provide an unprecedented level of detail on what China is suspected of pursuing with its so-called “land reclamation” project, which the Defense Department now describes as “extensive.”
The U.S. military initially called out China for the project in March, explaining that the country was “pumping sand on to live coral reefs” and then paving over them with concrete.
The construction, though, has apparently proceeded at a rapid and alarming pace.The new Defense Department report on China’s military activities said that as of late December, China had reclaimed about 500 acres of land in this way.
A senior defense official told the Associated Press on Friday that the land mass has since grown to about 2,000 acres and could keep growing as the year goes on.
The DOD report warned that while Beijing’s island construction intent is unclear, five emerging outposts in the Spratly Islands could be used for surveillance systems, harbors and logistical support. The report said they could also hold “at least one airfield.” According to the Defense Department, work at four of the five sites has shifted to mainly development and construction.
The report described how China has “excavated deep channels and built new berthing areas to allow access for larger ships to the outposts.”