South China Sea: Hanoi continues to build on disputed islands

Satellite images taken on November 30 show Vietnamese ships near the Ladd Reef, a small island in the Spratly. The military purpose of the new base is still unconfirmed, but it could trigger Beijing’s ire.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Vietnam is carrying out dredging and construction work in some disputed islands in the South China Sea. This is what appears from new satellite images taken by Planet Lab, a US company. The photos date back to November 30 last year and show construction work on a new facility in Ladd Reef, a small island in the Spratly where Hanoi already has a lighthouse.

The news could trigger the ire of Beijing, which has been pursuing an aggressive policy in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, building naval and air bases in several atolls.

Images of Ladd Reef taken in July show no marine sediments that are now visible, and this means that the work began recently. The Vietnamese government has declined comment.

Last month, more photos published by Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reveal that Hanoi is also building several airstrips and military hangars on several disputed islands. The military nature of these latest works, however, are not confirmed.

According to Carl Thayer, a professor at the University of New South Wales, Vietnam is accumulating as many "positions" as possible before the countries involved sign a code of conduct in the China Sea: "Vietnam is moving beyond the status quo and my speculation it is that if we are moving toward a diplomatic resolution of the issue within a year or two, then it seems that Hanoi wants to take as much as possible before it is banned from doings so".

The Vietnamese installations are a response to the expansionist policy adopted in recent years by Beijing in the seas of the Asia-Pacific region. The South China Sea region is also disputed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. Following arbitration promoted from the Philippines, a judgment of the Hague court found Chinese claims in the area "without any rights".