Friday, May 7, 2021

"China Wants To Revive A Strategically Located Airfield Deep In The Pacific"

 From The Drive's The Warzone vertical, May 6:

The airstrip in the country of Kiribati is positioned just 1,800 miles from Hawaii, which isn't that far in terms of the distances in the Pacific.

The Chinese government reportedly has plans to refurbish and expand an airstrip on the island of Kanton, also spelled Canton, part of the archipelago nation of Kiribati in the central Pacific Ocean. If true, this could give Beijing an airbase in an incredibly strategical location, between North America and New Zealand, potentially giving China's military much greater reach throughout a critical and increasingly tense region.

Reuters first reported on Chinese developments in Kiribati, which also included improvements to a bridge associated with the airstrip, on May 5, 2021, based on information from I-Kiribati politician Tessie Lambourne. The site currently has a single usable runway, officially measuring 6,230 feet in length, although the total unimproved length is closer to 8,000 feet, based on satellite imagery. The ribbon-shaped island, which has a total area of only around 15 square miles and a population of approximately 20, is part of Kiribati's wider Phoenix Islands group, none of the others of which are inhabited.

“The government hasn’t shared the cost and other details other than it’s a feasibility study for the rehabilitation of the runway and bridge,” Lambourne,  who formed the Boutokaan Kiribati Moa Party last year, which is in opposition to President Taneti Maamau's Tobwaan Kiribati Party, told Reuters. “The opposition will be seeking more information from [the] government in due course.”

At the time of writing, neither I-Kiribati nor Chinese authorities do not appear to have responded, in any way, to Reuters' report. Reuters also said it had reached to the U.S. Navy and U.S. State Department, but that neither had responded by the time its piece was published.

There has been talk about possible Chinese infrastructure projects in Kiribati since 2019, when the country, under President Maamau, who had been first elected three years earlier, recognized Beijing as the legitimate government of China and ended its diplomatic relations with Taiwan. This reversed a decision I-Kiribati officials had taken in 2003, when they changed their previous position, and recognized the government in Taipei.

During World War II, the coral atoll's airstrip was used by the U.S. Army Air Forces as part of an air ferry route between Hawaii and the South Pacific. After the war, civil operators also used it as a trans-Pacific stopover. The United States also made use of the island for space and missile tracking up until the late 1960s. Today, Canton Island Airport is used only for emergencies.

The existing runway at Canton Airport, once modernized, could be long enough to support fighter deployments, but the improved section would likely need to be extended out to the full 8,000 feet length to support large-size transports, as well as maritime patrol aircraft or even bombers. A considerable investment would also need to be made to supporting infrastructure to sustain any kind of meaningful, longer-term deployment by military aircraft, including hangars, fueling and maintenance facilities, and accommodations for aircrew and ground personnel.

The location of the airstrip would be especially useful for surveillance aircraft flights, including those by long-endurance unmanned aircraft, extending reach toward both Hawaii in one direction, and Australia and New Zealand in the other. Persistent intelligence-gathering, sea control, and long-range maritime targeting would all be of interest for the People’s Liberation Army in this region....