The country has placed its construction in the Spratly Islands near its mainland coast to prevent criticism, the New Delhi Times reported. They have slowly added buildings on 10 major islets since 2017, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. The US Centre for Strategic and International Studies also tracked new communications equipment, a sports field and the extension of a runway from 750 metres to 1,300 metres.
Vietnam’s construction is widely seen as defensive, the New Delhi Times reported.
The country, which belongs to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is known for working out any bilateral differences.
Professor Alan Chong, of S Rajaratnam School of International Studies told the news outlet: “They’ve never had a standoff with any other country because all the other claimants have respectfully kept to their developable spheres around the South China Sea.
“I think there’s this intra-ASEAN consensus, that within ASEAN the claimants do not rock the boat so as to present a common front towards China.”
Trung Nguyen, international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University, has said Vietnam is reclaiming land for self-defence.
He said: “The Vietnamese government has made it very clear they just reclaim the islands for self-defence, and they do not expand massively for other purposes.
“I don’t think the Vietnamese government wants to draw a lot of attention from other countries on their reclamation, so that’s the reason they want to do it quietly.”
Mr Chong added Hanoi is preparing for a long stay on the islands with little help from mainland Vietnam.
The Director of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said Vietnam’s upgrade is to make it difficult for China to take the islands without cost.
He said: “The Vietnamese endgame seems to be making these facilities more survivable, raising the cost for the Chinese to try to take them.”
China has so far claimed 90 percent in the world’s busiest trade route which is also claimed by the likes of Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei.
The US has also tried to push back China’s hold on the region with dozens of freedom of navigation operations in the area since 2015.