Washington: China appears to have installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven of the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, despite statements by Beijing that it has no intention to militarize the islands which are part of a strategic trade route, where territory is claimed by several countries.
A US think tank cites new satellite imagery to claim that anti-aircraft guns and what are likely to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) to protect against cruise missile strikes have been installed by China at the Spratly Islands, where it has already completed the construction of military length airstrips.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) also said that high-resolution images show hexagonal towers that likely contain targeting radar.
“These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” it said.
“Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases.”
AMTI director Greg Poling said AMTI had spent months trying to figure out what the purposes of the structures was.
“This is the first time that we’re confident in saying they are anti-aircraft and CIWS emplacements. We did not know that they had systems this big and this advanced there,” he told Reuters.
“This is militarization. The Chinese can argue that it’s only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict.
“They keep saying they are not militarizing, but they could deploy fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles tomorrow if they wanted to,” he said.
China has said military construction on the islands will be limited to necessary defensive requirements.
The United States has criticized what it called China’s militarization of its maritime outposts and stressed the need for freedom of navigation by conducting periodic air and naval patrols near them that have angered Beijing.
US President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has also criticized Chinese behavior in the South China Sea while signaling he may adopt a tougher approach to China’s assertive behavior in the region than President Barack Obama.