Currently, Google Earth maps show a semi-circular mound, with four three-pronged formations attached, near Itu Aba’s northwestern coastline. The structures sit just across from newly-built dock capable of holding some 300 warships and a recently upgraded airstrip.
Taiwan Defense Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi told local media Wednesday that, "Under the pre-condition of protecting military secrets and security, we have requested Google blur images of important military facilities."
China has built ports and airfields, and has dredged several ecologically-sensitive reef habitats in the region as part of extensive land reclamation projects, despite calls by the US and their allies to roll back what they claim is a militarization of the South China Sea by Beijing.
This resulted in the Philippines bringing Beijing before the Hague, where an international tribunal condemned Beijing’s actions, finding that there was no legal basis for China’s land claim. The court concluded that "to the extent China had historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the Convention."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the ruling, as well as as the legitimacy of the court, calling it "null and void."
The Taiwanese Defense Ministry has not made the purpose of Itu Aba public, claiming confidentiality, but defense experts in the country believe the structure of the installation implies that it is an artillery base.
Former government advisor and scholar Dustin Wang has made regular visits to Itu Aba and said the installation "definitely will be for military purposes, but I cannot tell if it is for defending, attacking or monitoring." He noted that the base could be used for surveillance, given its position facing a main thoroughfare for seaborne traffic.
After a legislative session on Tuesday, Defense minister Feng Shih-kuan told reporters, "It is inconvenient for us to reveal any military facilities we are installing on Taiping island, and what their purposes are, as they are all considered secret."
Billions of dollars in trade annually pass through the South China Sea. Taiwan, along with China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines all have territorial claims on parts of the sea.