Image source, Satellite Image/Maxar TechnologiesImage caption, A satellite image of one of the structures in the Taklamakan Desert

China appears to have built full-scale mock-ups of US warships in a desert in the country's north-western Xinjiang region, satellite images show.

One of the images, captured by US space technology company Maxar, shows a structure shaped like a military aircraft carrier placed on rail tracks.

USNI News, a site specialising in the US Navy, said the structures appeared to be targets built by the military.

Beijing has been developing and testing anti-ship ballistic missiles for years.

The US has warned that in recent months China has been rapidly expanding its military, including its nuclear capabilities, as tension builds in the South China Sea.

  • Could China's hypersonic missile spark a new arms race?
  • Why is the South China Sea contentious?

On Sunday, USNI News said the structures photographed in the Taklamakan Desert appeared to include flat outlines of US military vessels without weapons or other details.

It said the images showed mock-ups of an aircraft carrier and at least two US Navy destroyers.

The site reported that the building of such structures "shows that China continues to focus on anti-carrier capabilities, with an emphasis on US Navy warships".

Earlier this year, China was suspected of carrying out a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile test – missiles that can fly in the upper atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound – which prompted concern in Washington.

Beijing later denied the reports and said it had been a routine spacecraft check.

The US Navy regularly carries out what it describes as routine missions with military ships in the South China Sea, which is one of the most disputed regions in the world. China claims most of the region, but surrounding countries and the US disagree.

The area is part of a major shipping route used to transport more than $3 trillion (£2.2 trillion) worth of trade annually.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have all been disputing China's claim to almost all of the Sea for decades, but tension has steadily increased in recent years.

The US has backed many of these countries in this territorial dispute.

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To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.Media caption, Why is everyone fighting over the South China Sea?