Wed, Mar 29, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Chinese-made islands set for warplanes

INFRASTRUCTURE COMPLETED:The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says satellite images show new radar antennas, indicating deployments are a possibility

Reuters, WASHINGTON

China appears to have largely completed major construction of military infrastructure on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea and can now deploy combat planes and other military hardware there at any time, a US think tank said on Monday.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the work on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島), Subi Reef (Jhubi Reef, 渚碧礁) and Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef, 美濟礁) in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) included naval, air, radar and defensive facilities.

The think tank cited satellite images taken this month, which its director, Greg Poling, said showed new radar antennas on Fiery Cross and Subi.

“So look for deployments in the near future,” he said.

China has denied US charges that it is militarizing the South China Sea, although last week Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) said defense equipment had been placed on islands in the disputed waterway to maintain “freedom of navigation.”

China’s Ministry of National Defense did not respond to a request for comment.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) yesterday said she was unaware of the details of the think tank’s report, but added the Spratly Islands were China’s inherent territory.

“As for China deploying or not deploying necessary territorial defensive facilities on its own territory, this is a matter that is within the scope of Chinese sovereignty,” she told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

A Pentagon spokesman, Commander Gary Ross, declined to comment on the specifics of the AMTI report, saying it was not the US Department of Defense’s practice to comment on intelligence.

However, he added that “China’s continued construction in the South China Sea is part of a growing body of evidence that they continue to take unilateral actions which are increasing tensions in the region and are counterproductive to the peaceful resolution of disputes.”

AMTI said China’s three air bases in the Spratlys and another on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) in the Paracel chain (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) further north would allow its military aircraft to operate over nearly the entire South China Sea.

Several neighboring states, including Taiwan, have competing claims in the sea.

The think tank said advanced surveillance and early-warning radar facilities at Fiery Cross, Subi and Cuarteron (Huayang Reef, 華陽礁) reefs, as well as Woody Island, and smaller facilities elsewhere gave it similar radar coverage.

It said China had installed HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles at Woody Island more than a year ago and had deployed anti-ship cruise missiles there on at least one occasion.

It had also constructed hardened shelters with retractable roofs for mobile missile launchers at Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief and enough hangars at Fiery Cross to house 24 combat aircraft and three larger planes, including bombers.

US officials told reporters last month that China had finished building almost two dozen structures on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross that appeared designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles.

In his Senate confirmation hearing in January, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson angered China by saying it should be denied access to islands it had built up in the South China Sea.

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