Satellite pictures showed China is upgrading and reinforcing its air bases closest to Taiwan along its southeastern coast, signaling Beijing is intensifying its plans to take the island by force.
The upgraded infrastructure at three air bases in Fujian province would give the People's Liberation Army Air Force with long-term logistical air combat support after it conducted 149 sorties within Taiwan's air defense identification zone in four days starting on October 1.
Work on aircraft shelters and strengthened weapons storage began early last year and proceeded uninterrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to images obtained by Planet Labs and initially reported by American tech and military site The Drive.
China-Taiwan tensions raise fears war
Picture taken on October 2 showed four reinforced hangars under construction, all connected directly to the runway for fast dispersal, development at Longtian airfield has included extensions and modifications for air defense installations, the runway, apron, and bunkers.
Per SCMP, a neighboring Huian facility, 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Taiwan's vast subterranean Chiashan airfield in Hualien, was also observed with similar building activity. The air defense installations, bombproof aircraft shelters, and hangars are designed differently than those at Longtian.
At Zhangzhou, where the Eastern Theatre Command's air force commander is stationed, a new ground-to-air missile defense facility has also been built.
China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory and has threatened to use force to reclaim it, with military invasion exercises taking place on a regular basis. In the photos, four airplane buildings can be seen being constructed at one end of Longtian Airbase, which will be the sole protected aviation infrastructure on the site.
The shelters would also help keep China's planes and overall preparedness hidden from prying eyes, with the advancements in satellite imagery. The development of administrative buildings and perhaps barracks at the site also indicates an increase in military personnel.
The pictures show the building of three storage bunkers at Huian Airbase, which are presumably for munitions and minor runway expansions. Meanwhile, a new surface-to-air missile defense station is being built at Zhangzhou airfield, making it the third at the same area.
Chinese official defends military drills near Taiwan
According to The Drive, the specialized surface-to-air missile defense stations at the three air bases have been actively rotating equipment and training. China's improvements to its air bases indicate that the military's operational capability is being increased, as well as the concealment of its assets and operations.
China stated earlier this week that it had conducted beach landing and offensive exercises in the province on the mainland that borders Taiwan. Tensions between Taiwan and the mainland have remained high.
"Taiwan independence forces" cooperating with "foreign troops" sparked the maneuvers, according to Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson for the mainland government's Taiwan Affairs Office.
"Through this salami slicing, the Chinese are trying to change the status quo and normalize the situation," said Hoo Tiang Boon, coordinator of the China program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, The Sun reported.
Experts believe that a direct battle is improbable at this time, but as the future of self-ruled Taiwan becomes more of a powder keg, a blunder or miscalculation may spark a conflict when Chinese and American goals clash.
China wants to reclaim control of the strategically and symbolically significant island, while the US views Taiwan as part of a larger Chinese challenge, as per Newsweek via MSN.