Taiwan's airstrip in Spratly Islands ready for planes
Taipei says facility will aid humanitarian tasks, others say it will accommodate F-16 fighter jets
Taiwan has renovated an airstrip and constructed a lighthouse on an island it administers in a disputed area of the South China Sea, government officials said.
A Taiwanese coastguard official said the runway overhaul on Taiping Island, which forms part of the Spratly Archipelago, was completed in September.
"Planes can now land and take off," the official said.
Observers have speculated that the airstrip has been improved to accommodate F-16 fighter aircraft and P-3C anti-submarine surveillance planes, but Taiwan's defence ministry spokesman Major General David Lo has said it was planned for flight safety and humanitarian tasks carried out by C-130 transport planes.
An official at the Taiwan Area National Expressway Engineering Bureau, which was awarded the runway reconstruction contract, said refurbishment of the 1,195-metre-long landing strip included expanding the hangar area to accommodate two C-130 planes.
Other improvements include a new runway surface, lighting, a storm sewer line, oil tanks and oil transmission pipelines.
The runway on Taiping is the third longest on islands in the South China Sea, according to an analysis released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
The construction of a solar-powered lighthouse on the 489,600-square-metre island, which is the largest of the naturally occurring Spratlys, was completed last week, a maritime and port bureau official said.
It will be ready to enter operation after an inspection likely to be conducted in December.
The bureau said the purpose of building the lighthouse on Taiping was to strengthen national sovereignty and protect navigation safety.
The mainland, which has been aggressively pursuing its maritime territorial claims in East Asia, recently completed the construction of two lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef in the Spratlys, while vowing to build more such installations on islands under its control in the South China Sea.
Beijing says its projects are largely for civilian and nonmilitary purposes, despite international criticism of its massive land reclamation work and infrastructure development in the area.
Taiwan's coastguard is also building a new pier to be completed by the end of this year.
The docking facility will be a home port to 100-tonne coastguard cutters and could accommodate 3,000-tonne naval frigates, Wang Chung-yi, the coastguard minister, said.
Disputes in the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves, also involve Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.