Beijing dares Asia over South China Sea

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Disputed South China Sea
Disputed South China Sea

New satellite imagery indicates that China has installed weapon systems on all seven artificial islands it has built in the contested waters of the South China Sea, a move that’s likely alarm the country’s neighbors.

The images, released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, show anti-aircraft guns plus other weapons systems that would guard against cruise missiles sitting in hexagonal structures on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs, which the AMTI began tracking in June this year.

China has already built military-length airstrips on these islands, previous analysis by the AMTI, part of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has shown.

A satellite image of Johnson Reef taken on November 29. AMTI says the military structures on this island are less complex than the newer ones on Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs.

The think tank said that the weapon emplacements showed that “Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea.”

“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,” it added.

China’s Defense Ministry said the military installations were proper and lawful, and mainly for self-defense.

“If others are flexing their military muscles at your doorstep, are you not even supposed to have a slingshot in hand just in case?” a statement said.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the islands were part of “China’s inherent territories” and it was quite normal to deploy “defense facilities” there.

AMTI said the weapons systems observed on the three largest islands China has built in the Spratlys were an evolution of smaller fortifications it had observed on the four other reefs China has reclaimed land at — Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron reefs.

The organization’s findings come despite a pledge from President Xi Jinping that China has no intention of militarising the islands.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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