Images of mysterious new constructions on a disputed Taiwanese island have prompted the country's government into damage control mode.
The Taiwanese government has asked Google to blur satellite images of Itu Aba, the country's sole holding in the disputed South China Sea, after aerial shots surfaced of mysterious new constructions on the region's border.
The photos, which are currently still visible on Google Earth, show four tetrapod structures set up in a semicircle just off the northwestern shoreline of the island, around three or four storeys high.
The images have prompted speculation over what exactly is being housed there, and whether China and Taiwan are planning on taking joint aggressive action over the disputed region.
A spokesman for Taiwan Defence Ministry confirmed they wanted evidence of the structures hidden, saying: "Under the precondition of protecting military secrets and security, we have requested Google blur images of important military facilities."
But other than that, Taiwan remains tight-lipped on the subject, refusing to delve into the structures' purpose.
The request to Google came shortly after reports speculated the structures could be blockhouse towers for anti-aircraft gun installations.
But Taiwan's Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan would not confirm or deny these reports.
"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 secrets," he told reporters.
He also assured the public that "Taiping Island has strong defensive capability".
The objects were not on the previous map taken by satellite in January last year, meaning they're a relatively new construction.
The country's silence prompts further speculation that Taipei may be ramping up its defence after an international ruling on the disputed area in July.
Both China and Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province, vehemently rejected the court ruling.
Military experts have speculated that the constructions are most likely defensive in nature, saying Taipei is likely to be working on building its intelligence and surveillance capabilities.
A security expert from Macquarie University told news.com.au it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what the structures are, but ruled out some of the speculation based on the satellite image.
"They're too small and in a strange pattern to be harbours or ports," he said.
"They could house sensors for surveillance, but the southern most structure doesn't point out to sea."
He also suggested they may house coastal artillery, but added this wasn't likely. "(If so), you'd expect them scattered around the entire island, and not concentrated in one place."
Cannon bases have likewise been ruled out, given that the surrounding saltwater would be likely to rust the material.
Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong said they were most likely to be large coastal forts set up for defensive purposes, but warned they could be equipped with heavy machineguns.
"The surrounding area ... is the most suitable landing beach on Taiping. Such kinds of construction were only found in Germany during the World War II and Taiwan," he told the South China Morning Post.
"The coastal forts can effectively stop vessels from Vietnam or even deter mainland warships from landing on Taiping."
Google has confirmed that it received the request from the Taiwanese government and is currently reviewing it.