Vietnam 'quietly upgrades' Spratly Islands facilities – think tank

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Vietnam has continued modest upgrades to Spratly Island, one of the features in the hotly-contested Spratly Island group.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 10) — Vietnam is 'quietly upgrading' its facilities in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea "apparently without facing the same reaction from China's maritime militia forces as the Philippines recently has," a U.S. think tank reported.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) in a report released Monday said Vietnam "continues to quietly upgrade" its facilities on occupied features in the contested region. AMTI noted that Vietnam occupies 49 outposts spread across 27 features in the Spratly Islands -- 10 are called islets while the rest are underwater reefs and banks.

The think tank reported Hanoi improved facilities on Spratly Island, Pearson Reef, Petley Reef and South Reefs.

"In total, Hanoi created about 40 acres of new land at Spratly Island through a process that involved the use of construction equipment to dredge up part of the reef surrounding the island and cover it in sand," he said.

AMTI noted this was similar to China's dredging and island-building activities in the Spratlys, although Hanoi's construction is considered "more time-consuming and less environmentally disastrous" but still entailed the destruction of coral reefs.

Developments in the Vietnam-occupied features include an extension of runway, four hangars believed to host maritime surveillance aircraft, and intelligence and communication facilities.

Vietnam has since built a pair of large signals intelligence or communications facilities and a pair of hangars in Spratly Island.

The newly-formed land, AMTI added, will be protected from storm surges through "intricate series of drainage channnels" situated on the island's edge.

"It seems that regardless of external factors, whether amid negotiations and relative calm or tensions and threats of violence, Hanoi is committed to a steady but modest expansion of its capabilities in and around the Spratly Islands," the report said.

Vietnam also made developments at the small cay it occupies on Pearson Reef.

"There is no sign of facilities built to house attack aircraft, for instance. Instead, Hanoi's upgrades seem geared toward expanding its ability to monitor and patrol contested waters and, especially in the case of its pillbox and DK1 platforms, improve living conditions and ensure it can resupply by air if necessary," it added.

The think tank earlier said China deployed up to 95 ships in response to the Philippines' repairs of the runway in Pag-asa Island, the seat of the Kalayaan local government in Palawan.

READ: Photos show China deployment of 'militia' as PH builds on Pag-asa Island – think tank

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on April 4 told China to lay off the island, as the Department of Foreign Affairs said the presence of Beijing's vessels there is illegal.

READ: Duterte tells China to lay-off Pag-asa Island, suggests 'compromise'