Report claims Chinese airstrip near disputed islands near completion

The China Post news staff

The China Post news staff–Attack warplanes and land-to-air missiles are being deployed to a Chinese air base with an operational radius reaching both Taipei and the disputed islands in the South China Sea as tension in the region continues to mount, a report said yesterday.

The hardware being deployed includes China’s Jian 10 and Sukhoi Su-30 jet fighters, unpiloted attack planes, and S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.

Taiwan intelligence officials, however, were not overly concerned, saying the project may be intended to beef up China’s combat readiness against possible flare-ups in the South China Sea. The moves are probably aimed at keeping Japanese and U.S. naval vessels and military aircraft at bay in the East China Sea, an intelligence officer said, but conceded that the presence of a new airport in the area leaves Taiwan aircraft less room to maneuver, at least in the north.

Google Earth images show the Shuimen Airport (水門機場), being built 364 meters above sea level on a tract of land reclaimed from a razed hilltop in the northern part of the east coastal province of Fujian, overlooking East China Sea. The location is slightly to the north of the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese-language United Evening News said in a report, adding that the air base is nearing completion.

After its completion, it will put Taipei, 246 km to its southeast; the Tiaoyu Islands (called the Senkaku Islands in Japan), 380 km to its east; and the offshore Chunxiao Oilfield, 200 km to its northeast, within its striking distance. However, it is also within the range of Taiwan radars.

Aircraft taking off from the airstrip can reach the skies of Taipei in less than 10 minutes. The airport boasts a pair of parallel runways, one regular, the other auxiliary, a complex network of connecting roads, a command post, living quarters for military personnel, a tunnel at the end of the runways, and camouflaged hangars.

Images of the airport were first captured in 2009 and images of the aircraft and missiles there were first seen last year.