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US hits China militarization

Missiles ‘serious concern,’ says Kerry
/ 12:48 AM February 19, 2016
WOODY’S SECRET Satellite images show an empty beach on Woody Island in the Paracel chain on Feb. 3, and with   missile launchers on it (center) on Feb. 14.

WOODY’S SECRET Satellite images show an empty beach on Woody Island in the Paracel chain on Feb. 3, and with missile launchers on it (center) on Feb. 14.

WASHINGTON—US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday slammed China for its increased “militarization” in the strategically important South China Sea, after Taiwan said Beijing placed surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island there.

“There is every evidence, every day, that there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another. It’s of a serious concern,” Kerry told reporters.

Fox News first reported missile launchers and a radar system had arrived on Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain, in the past week.

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Taiwan’s defense ministry later confirmed the existence of the missile system on the island.

Taiwan and Vietnam also claim Woody Island, which is known to the Chinese as Yongxingdao and to the Vietnamese as Phu Lam.

Woody Island has an artificial harbor, an airport, roads, military posts and other buildings. Recent satellite imagery appears to show it is adding a helicopter base likely dedicated to antisubmarine warfare missions.

Beijing has controlled all of the Paracels, which are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, since seizing several of the islands from South Vietnam in a brief, bloody naval battle toward the end of the Vietnam War.

Artificial islands

But tensions in the South China Sea, through which a third of global trade worth $5 trillion passes every year, have mounted in recent months since China transformed disputed reefs in the Spratly islands further south into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.

Washington says China’s move threatens free passage in a strategically vital area and has sent warships to sail close to the disputed islands to assert freedom of navigation, raising fears of escalation.

“We have said repeatedly with respect to China that the standard that should be applied to all countries with respect to the South China Sea is no militarization,” Kerry said.

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Kerry recalled that when Chinese President Xi Jinping came to Washington late last year, “he stood in the Rose Garden with President (Barack) Obama and said China will not militarize in the South China Sea.”

“We had these conversations with the Chinese and I’m confident that over the next days, we will have further very serious conversations on this,” Kerry said.

He said he hoped that Beijing would work to resolve the maritime disputes “not through unilateral action, not through force, not through militarization but through diplomacy and by working with other countries and claimants.”

On Tuesday, Obama and the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) called for “tangible steps” to lower tensions in the South China Sea after concluding a special summit in California.

Rival claims

Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam dispute ownership of parts of the Spratlys with China.

The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague for resolution.

China has refused to take part in the proceedings, but the tribunal has went ahead with the case and is expected to hand down a ruling by April or May.

After reports of the missile deployment spread on Wednesday, the US defense department urged all the claimants to deal with their territorial and maritime claims in accordance with international law, and to commit to peacefully manage or resolve their disputes.

“We call on South China Sea claimants to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and new militarization of disputed features,” said Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for the Pentagon.

A US official confirmed on Wednesday that China had placed a surface-to-air missile system on Woody Island, but said it was unclear whether the deployment was intended for the long-term. The official was not authorized to discuss the information publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We believe the photos are accurate and that China has deployed SAMs to Woody Island,” the official told Agence France-Presse (AFP), referring to surface-to-air missiles.

The official, referring to the Fox News photos, said the missiles appeared to be HQ-9s, which have a range of about 200 kilometers.

Experts say the missiles could be used to target enemy aircraft.

HIS Jane’s Intelligence Review agreed with that conclusion in its assessment of commercial satellite imagery of the island.

The magazine’s deputy editor, Neil Ashdown, said that depending on the version of the HQ-9 deployed, the system has a range of between 125 km and 230 km, and would be the most advanced surface-to-air missile system currently deployed on land in the South China Sea.

Ashdown described that as a significant military escalation.

Australian Foreign Secretary Julie Bishop on Thursday said in Beijing that China had “challenged” reports that it had deployed advance surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island.

Bishop, the first senior Western official to visit China since the missile reports, said she had raised the issue of the South China Sea militarization in her talks.

“President Xi said in Washington last year that China did not intend to militarize the islands and we certainly hold China to that and that’s been reiterated to me,” she told reporters, after meeting China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

“In the case of the surface-to-air missile claim, that’s disputed by China. We raised the matter and we’ve had a discussion about it,” Bishop added.

Pressed on whether China was denying the presence of missiles on Woody Island, she said, “No, they did not deny, but nor did they admit that there were. It was challenged. The reports were challenged.”

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, on Thursday would also neither confirm nor deny if the missiles were on Woody Island, repeating that China has had defense facilities on the islands for decades.

Media hype

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday accused Western media of hyping the issue and saying more attention should be paid to the “public goods and services” provided by China’s development of its maritime claims.

Beijing has insisted it has the right to build “self-defense” systems in the region.

China needs to strengthen its “self-defense” in the South China Sea in the face of “more frequent provocations from the US military,” the state-run tabloid Global Times wrote in an editorial on Thursday.

The paper, quoting the defense ministry, also said “China has deployed weapons on the island for a long time.”

It did not specify which weapons were on Woody Island.

“Jet fighters from the United States, an outside country, may feel uneasy when making provocative flights in the region. To us, that’s a proper result,” it said, referring to the reports of the missile deployment on Woody Island. Reports from AFP, AP

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TAGS: China militarization, John Kerry, South China Sea
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