December 15, 2016
China appears to have added weapons to man-made islands it built in the South China Sea, an American-based research group says.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says the weapons include anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. The center published new satellite images to support its findings.
The group said it has been studying construction on the islands – which are part of the Spratly Islands - since June and July.
The Spratly Islands are made up of many small islands,known as islets, coral reefs, and other land formations in the South China Sea. China, Taiwan and Vietnam each have claimed much of the area and its natural resources. Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the waterway.
China created the man-made land formations in the Spratlys in recent years by building up sand on top of coral reefs. The development was denounced by the United States and other nations that have territorial claims in the area.
China has built long airstrips, lighthouses and radar facilities on the islands over several years.
Gregory Poling is director of the center’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI). He predicted that China will continue military-related construction on the islands.
“What we're seeing is the most important critical infrastructure going in for air and for defense,” he said. “Pretty soon I expect that we'll see deployment of combat aircraft.”
The apparent addition of arms to the islands shows that China is serious about defending them “in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea," CSIS experts wrote in a report.
China's Defense Ministry released a statement Thursday on its website. It said the construction was "mainly for civilian use.” But it added that “necessary military installations” used for defensive purposes “are legitimate and lawful."
At the State Department, spokesman John Kirby responded to a question about the new report.
“There should be no need for militarization of these man-made features. And we’re going to continue to make that case at every possible turn.”
In the Philippines, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed concern at the new report. “If true, it is a big concern for us and the international community who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade,” he said.
Reuters news service reported his comments.
In the past, the Philippines has objected strongly to Chinese action in disputed areas of the South China Sea. But President Rodrigo Duterte has recently taken a softer position and moved to strengthen ties with China.
A top U.S. military official said Wednesday the United States will not soften its opposition to Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.
“You can count on America now and into the future,” said Admiral Harry Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command. Harris was speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia.
“We will not allow a shared domain to be closed down unilaterally no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea…We will cooperate where we can, but we will be ready to confront where we must.”
China’s land reclamation projects in the South China Sea have been larger than similar efforts by other countries with claims in the waterway.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Words in This Story
critical – adj. extremely serious or dangerous
contingency – n. an event that might happen in the future
legitimate – adj. something considered correct or accepted
domain - n. an area of land
unilaterally – adv. done without approval from others
artificial – adj. not natural, created or made to look real
confront - v. oppose or challenge someone in a direct way