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Satellite images show China's nearly completed weapon structures in Spratlys

At Fiery Cross Reef, China appears to have nearly completed its structures that would house surface-to-air missile systems that could thwart overhead surveillance. CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

MANILA, Philippines — Recent satellite images released by a Washington-based think tank appear to show that China has nearly completed its weapon structures on three of its artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) confirmed earlier reports that Beijing is near completion of structures that will house surface-to-air missile systems on Fiery Cross (Kagitingan), Mischief (Panganiban) and Subi (Zamora) Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

The deployment of weapon systems to China's three largest outposts in the Spratly Islands, which are also being claimed by the Philippines, would keep with its efforts to extend its defense capabilities throughout the so-called nine-dash line, the AMTI said.

Satellite imagery taken on Nov. 2, 2016 and again on February 7 show eight of the buildings being constructed on each of the three outposts.

Fiery Cross Reef CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

Fiery Cross Reef CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

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Fiery Cross Reef CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

Each building measures about 66 feet long and 33 feet wide, according to the think tank.

"This could allow transporter-erector-launcher vehicles carrying missiles—like the HQ-9 SAM systems China has already deployed on Woody Island—stationed within the structures to fire from inside without exposing themselves," the report read.

The structures on the three reefs could conceal launchers from views with roofs closed, preventing overhead surveillance. These buildings could also withstand indirect strikes or small weapons fire.

Mischief Reef CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

Mischief Reef CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

Subi Reef CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

Subi Reef CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

The AMTI said that China appears to have begun construction on the weapon structures between late September and early November 2016.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed that Beijing has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and the adjacent waters.

"I want to reiterate that China carrying out normal facility construction, including deploying necessary and appropriate national defense facilities, on its own territory, is exercising a right bestowed by international law to sovereign states," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

An international arbitration tribunal ruled in July 2016 that China's "nine-dash-line" claim over the South China Sea does not have legal basis and that "certain sea areas (of the Spratlys) are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China."

The Philippines and China have agreed to hold bilateral talks over the maritime dispute. President Rodrigo Duterte has said that he will bring up the tribunal's decision, which China has refused to acknowledge and has said is invalid from the start, at some point during his presidency.

RELATED: Satellite photos show China weapons in South China Sea

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