Three bases in Fujian province along China’s south-eastern coast have been upgraded or reinforced with improved defenses that could boost Chinese efforts in the event of aerial conflict with Taiwan.
The images come after the People’s Liberation Army air force launched 149 sorties into Taiwanese air defense identification zone (ADIZ) from October 1 to 4 – a record number – amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan.
The Longtian airbase (pictured) has been expanded and adapted for air defence sites. At least five storage bunkers are being constructed and new administrative buildings have popped up.
At the Huian base bombproof aircraft shelters and hangers of a different design, including three most likely used for munitions storage, are visible in the satellite image
The image of the base, taken on October 2, also shows an expanded apron and four hardened aircraft shelters under construction. The shelters are directly connected to the runway for quick dispersal, according to a label on the image.
At the nearby Huian base bombproof aircraft shelters and hangers of a different design, including three most likely used for munitions storage according to Planet Labs, are visible in the satellite image.
While at the Zhangzhou base, home of the Eastern Theatre Command’s air force, a newly-constructed air defence site is visible as well as several new buildings.
Antony Wong Tong, a Macau-based military expert, told the South China Morning Post that the upgrades offer clues about how the bases might be used in a potential future conflict with Taiwan.
‘Longtian looks like it will be used as an alternate aerodrome after massive refurbishment, while the four new hardened aircraft shelters and the existing functional 24 aircraft sunshade shelters in Huian airbase tell us it will be able to house a full-scale aviation brigade,’ he said.
Reports of the improvements follow previously reported upgrades at other Chinese military bases and come amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan.
China claims the self-governing island off its east coast as its territory, and says Taiwan must eventually come under its control and reserves the right to use force if necessary, according to AP.
Taiwan considers itself an independent state. It is recognized as such by a dwindling number of United Nations member states but enjoys informal diplomatic relations with several countries.
The two territories have been ruled separately since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
The tensions threaten to drag neighboring countries, as well as the United States, into conflict with China.
The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan under what is known as the one-China policy, but is legally bound by its own laws to ensure that Taiwan can defend itself, AP reported.
Japan ceased to recognize Taiwan in 1972, but is a key U.S. ally in the Asia Pacific region. It firmly opposes Chinese advancement in the South China Sea.
Earlier this week, Taiwan’s president said the territory will not bow to pressure from Beijing and will defend its democratic way of life.
‘The more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China,’ President Tsai Ing-wen said in a speech marking Taiwan’s National Day on Sunday in the capital of Taipei, adding: ‘Nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us.’
The National Day celebrations were a rare show of Taiwanese defense capabilities in the annual parade and underlined Tsai’s promise to resist China’s military threats.
The president added: ‘We hope for an easing of… relations [with Beijing] and will not act rashly, but there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure.
‘We will continue to bolster our national defense and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us.’
Chinese President Xi Jinping broke off official communication with Taipei following Tsai’s election five years ago, and has since ramped up economic, diplomatic and military pressure.
The latest flare-up was marked by the surge in flights by Chinese fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers into Taiwan’s ADIZ earlier this month.
Taiwan’s ADIZ is an area in which all foreign aircraft are required to identify themselves and state their intentions.
It is different to the island’s sovereign airspace, which extends over a smaller area 12 nautical miles from its coast.
Taipei said it scrambled fighters, broadcast radio warnings and activated missile defenses in response. A short time later, the Chinese aircraft turned back.
Adding to rising tensions, China on Saturday warned the US over its involvement in Taiwan and claimed the ‘weak and cowardly’ island authorities will accept reunification.