Beijing deploys missiles to South China Sea isle | Global News
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Beijing deploys missiles to South China Sea isle

China says it’s just Western media hype
/ 02:23 AM February 18, 2016
SINO MISSILES ON DISPUTED ISLAND  China has placed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the Paracels, which is also being claimed by Vietnam, as it insists it has a right to build  “self-defense” systems in the South China Sea. AFP

SINO MISSILES ON DISPUTED ISLAND China has placed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the Paracels, which is also being claimed by Vietnam, as it insists it has a right to build “self-defense” systems in the South China Sea. AFP

TAIPEI/WASHINGTON—China has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, Taiwan and US officials said, ratcheting up tensions even as US President Barack Obama urged restraint in the region.

READ: China deploys missiles on disputed South China Sea island—report

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Maj. Gen. David Lo, spokesperson for Taiwan’s defense ministry, told Reuters on Wednesday the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island.

The island is part of the Paracels chain, which has been under Chinese control for more than 40 years but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

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Called Yongxing Island by China and Phu Lam by Vietnam, Woody Island has an artificial harbor. It boasts an airport, roads, military posts and other buildings and recent satellite imagery appears to show it adding a helicopter base likely dedicated to antisubmarine warfare missions.

China’s move followed its efforts to build artificial islands in the disputed sea by piling sand atop reefs and then adding airstrips and military installations.

The most dramatic work has taken place in the Spratly archipelago, where the militaries of four nations have a presence, although similar work has also gone on at Woody and other Chinese holdings in the Paracels.

“The defense ministry has learned of an air defense missile system deployed by the communists on Yongxing Island,” a Taiwan defense ministry spokesperson told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday.

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.”

“The military will pay close attention to subsequent developments,” Lo said. “Interested parties should work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region and refrain from taking any unilateral measures that would increase tensions.”

 ‘Hyping the issue’

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday sought to play down reports of the missile deployment, accusing the media of hyping the issue and saying more attention should be paid to what he called “public goods and services” provided by China’s development of its maritime claims.

Following talks with his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, in Beijing, Wang said he had become aware of the missile reports just minutes before.

“We believe this is an attempt by certain Western media to create news stories,” Wang said.

Echoing claims that the development was largely civilian oriented and benefited the region, Wang pointed to the construction of lighthouses, weather stations and rescue and shelter facilities for fishermen.

“All of those are actions that China, as the biggest littorial state in the South China Sea, has undertaken to provide more public goods and services to the international community and play its positive role there,” Wang said.

Asked about reports of the missile deployment, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said he was unaware of the specifics of the situation, but he added that any deployment of missiles on China’s own territory would be legitimate and that any facilities built have to do with national defense, not militarization.

READ: China foreign minister downplays missile deployment reports

China’s defense ministry said the Paracel Islands were China’s territory, so China was within its rights to deploy defense facilities there, the ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

“China’s air and defensive deployments on the relevant islands and reefs have existed for many years,” the statement said, adding that reports by certain Western media were nothing but “hype.”

 

Deployment confirmed

A US defense official confirmed the “apparent deployment” of the missiles, first reported by Fox News.

Images from civilian satellite company ImageSat International show two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system, according to Fox News.

Adm. Harry Harris Jr., commander of the US Pacific Command, on Wednesday said the deployment of the missiles on Woody Island would be contrary to China’s pledge not to militarize the region.

Harris said such a move would represent “a militarization of the South China Sea in ways that Chinese President Xi Jinping said he would not do.”

“It would be a clear indication of militarization,” Harris told a briefing in Tokyo, where he was meeting with Japanese defense officials.

News of the missile deployment came as Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) concluded a summit in California, where they discussed the need to ease tensions in the region but did not include specific mention of China’s assertive pursuit of its claims in the South China Sea.

“We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas,” Obama told a news conference.

Beijing claims most of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year and where islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting atop vast energy reserves.

The United States has said it will continue conducting “freedom of navigation patrols” by ships and aircraft to assure unimpeded passage through the region, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

China’s missile deployment on Woody Island is likely to rattle Vietnam the most because of its proximity to the Paracels and because of a history of maritime tensions with China that culminated in 2014 with a standoff after China moved a massive oil rig into disputed waters.

 

Rising tensions

Mira Rapp-Hooper, a South China Sea expert from the Center for a New American Security, said it was not the first time that China had sent such weapons to the Paracels.

“I do think surface-to-air missiles are a considerable development,” she said. “If they have been deployed they are probably China’s effort to signal a response to freedom-of-navigation operations, but I don’t think it is a totally unprecedented deployment.”

A US Navy destroyer sailed within 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) of Triton Island in the Paracels chain last month in a move the Pentagon said was aimed at countering efforts by China, Vietnam and Taiwan to limit freedom of navigation. China condemned the US action as provocative.

China has said it would not seek militarization of its South China Sea islands and reefs, but that did not mean it would not set up defenses.

“Woody Island belongs to China,” said Ni Lexiong, a naval expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

“Deploying surface-to-air missiles on our territory is completely within the scope of our sovereign rights. We have sovereignty there, so we can choose whether to militarize it,” he said.

Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen said tensions were now higher in the region.

“We urge all parties to work on the situation based on principles of peaceful solution and self-control,” Tsai said.

 

Threat to planes

The missiles arrived at Woody Island over the past week, Fox News said. As shown by the images, a beach on the island was empty on Feb. 3, but the missiles were visible by

Feb. 14, it reported.

A US official told Fox News the imagery appeared to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which had a range of 200 km and would pose a threat to any airplanes, civilian or military, flying close by.

Asked about the report, Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesperson, said: “While I cannot comment on matters related to intelligence, we do watch these matters very closely.” Reports from AFP and AP

 

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TAGS: Barack Obama, Maj. Gen. David Lo, Missile, Missile System, South China Sea, South China Sea ilse, Surface-to-air missile system
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