Beijing, June 22 (IANS/EFE) China has claimed that it built artificial islands on reefs in the Spratly Islands — which are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines — to improve weather forecasting.
The official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, People’s Daily, published two interviews with two scientists — Ding Yihui from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and director of China Meteorological Administration Zheng Guogang — to back up this claim.
The argument comes a day before US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on Tuesday in Washington.
The meeting is expected to address the issue of Chinese structures on the islands.
Both scientists defended the new facilities as aimed at enhancing weather forecasts, in a region with extreme climatic conditions.
“The construction of infrastructure for observation and communication is the first step towards enhancing and improving marine meteorological monitoring, warning, forecasting, prediction and scientific research,” Ding said.
According to Zheng, better weather forecast is a responsibility that China owes the region, to help neighbouring countries avoid ravages of typhoons and dangerous natural phenomena, and increase security for dense fishing and maritime traffic in the area.
Those same neighbouring countries, however, had expressed alarm last year seeing Chinese activity on regional islands and reefs, a concern backed by Washington.
Beijing has repeatedly stonewalled Washington’s request to stop building on these islands.
Meanwhile, South China Morning Post on Monday quoted analysts as saying that China could use such facilities to deploy its J-11 fighter-bombers in the area, a model developed between 1990 and 2009 from the Soviet Su-27.
The J-11 has a flight range of 1,500 km, expandable with the installation of additional fuel tanks under its wings.
With such devices in the area, China could extend the presence of its air force by an additional 1,000 km to the south.
In fact, in one of the islands, a three-km track is being readied (which can be used not only by a J-11 but also by transport aircraft), and together with its aircraft carrier, ‘Liaoning’, it would allow Beijing to expand its air influence to defensive operations in mid-ocean for the first time.