Satellite images ‘show China has set up surface-to-air missiles on its man-made island in the disputed South China Sea’
Submitted by: Veronica Coffin
- Taiwan and US say China has deployed defense system in South China Sea
- Comes as images appear to show 125-mile missiles on disputed island
- China says it is ‘attempt by certain Western media to create news stories’
- Tensions have escalated after China began reclaiming contested reefs
These satellite pictures claim to show that China has deployed surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea.
Taiwan’s defense ministry confirmed the existence of the facility after reports that missile launchers could be seen on the images on Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain.
A U.S. defense official also confirmed the ‘apparent deployment’ of the missiles, believed to have arrived in the past week.
The report came as President Barack Obama called for ‘tangible steps’ to reduce tensions in the region.
China has controlled all of the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, since the mid-1970s and the end of the Vietnam War.
These satellite images released by ImageSat International claim to show that China has deployed surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea. The missiles appeared to be the HQ-9 air defense system, with a range of about 200km (125 miles)
Proof? A U.S. defense official also confirmed the ‘apparent deployment’ of the missiles, believed to have arrived in the past week. These images suggest they arrived on a beach between February 3 and February 14
Experts said the long-range missiles, said be positioned on a beach in the area marked above, could be used to target enemy aircraft, heightening tensions in the region and potentially prompting US intervention
China has reportedly deployed surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Woody Island (seen above in 2012) in the South China Sea, ratcheting up tensions in the area, through which one-third of the world’s oil passes
But tensions in the sea – through which one-third of the world’s oil passes – have mounted in recent months after China transformed contested reefs in the Spratly islands further south into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.
Washington says the move threatens free passage in a strategically vital area and has sent warships close to the disputed islands to assert freedom of navigation, raising fears of escalation.
Australian military aircraft also regularly overfly the area.
Fox News said yesterday that images showed two batteries of eight missile launchers and a radar system had arrived on the main island, Woody.
A Taiwan defence ministry spokesman told AFP news agency: ‘The defence ministry has learned of an air defence missile system deployed by the Chinese communists on Yongxing Island.’
The ministry would give no further detail on when it had become aware of the installation, saying only that it had known about it ‘for a while’.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi described the reports as ‘an attempt by certain Western media to create news stories’.
Land grab: An aerial view shows construction work by China on the Mabini in the disputed Spratley Islands
Man-made: Fiery Cross reef in the Spratly Islands chain is claimed by China, Vietnam and the Philippines
He did not explicitly deny the deployment, but said the press should ‘turn your attention more to the lighthouses we have built on some of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea’.
He added: ‘Self-defence facilities that China has built on the islands are consistent with the right to self-preservation and self-protection that China is entitled to under international law, so there should be no question about that.’
The Fox News report was based on pictures from ImageSat International, which earlier this week released images said to show reclamation work in the Paracels.
The missiles appeared to be the HQ-9 air defence system, with a range of about 200km (125 miles), according to reports.
Experts said the long-range missiles, said be positioned on a beach, could be used to target enemy aircraft, heightening tensions in the region and potentially prompting US intervention.
‘The long-range HQ-9… could exacerbate the nerves of neighbouring countries, particularly Vietnam,’ said Kevin Cheng, editor-in-chief of the Taipei-based Asia-Pacific Defense Magazine.
‘The military deployment could be seen to violate the US call for free navigation in the area and allow it more excuse to interfere in affairs there.’
Tensions in the sea have mounted in recent months after China transformed contested reefs (above) in the Spratly islands further south into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities
China has asserted its claim to almost all of the South China Sea by rapidly building artificial islands including airstrips said to be capable of hosting military jets
The report on the missile batteries came as Obama wrapped up a two-day Southeast Asian summit in California where leaders voiced concern over Beijing’s military build-up in the strategic and resource-rich area.
‘We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions,’ Obama said, calling for ‘a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarisation of disputed areas.’
The Pentagon declined to confirm the Chinese missile deployment.
But China’s increasingly muscular actions in the vital waterway featured heavily at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) talks at Sunnylands, a sprawling California desert retreat.
In a joint statement, Obama and the 10 ASEAN leaders demanded the ‘peaceful resolution’ of a myriad of competing territorial claims over islands, atolls and reefs.
Obama has tried to muster an informal coalition of Pacific allies to demand that Beijing respect the rule of law, hoping that China will want to avoid being painted as a regional bully.
But in Beijing, Australian foreign minister Bishop downplayed reports that Canberra was considering participating in such a grouping, saying that the country was ‘enhancing its strategic and defence relationship with a number of countries in the region, including China’.