China has said military construction on the islands will be limited to necessary defensive requirements.
China seems to have installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on the seven artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, a US think tank reported Wednesday, quoting new images Satellites.
The Asia-Pacific Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has stated that its conclusions come despite statements by the Chinese leadership that Beijing does not intend to militarize the islands on the trade route Where the territory is claimed by several countries.
AMTI said it had followed the construction of hexagonal structures on the Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands since June and July. China has already built military airstrips on these islands.
“It now appears that these structures are an evolution of the defensive fortifications already built in the smallest installations of China on the reefs of Gaven, Hughes, Johnson and Cuarteron,” he said citing images taken in November And made available to Reuters.
“This model has experienced another evolution in much larger bases on the Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs.”
The satellite images of the Hughes and Gaven reefs showed what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns and what was likely to be close weapons systems (CIWS) to protect against cruise missile strikes, he said .
The images of Fiery Cross Reef showed towers that probably contained radar targets, he said.
AMTI said the covers had been installed on Fiery Cross towers, but the size of the platforms on the towers and the covers suggested that they hid defense systems similar to those of small reefs.
“These guns and probable CIWS sites show that Beijing is serious about defending its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” he said.
“They are among others the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these air bases soon operational.
AMTI Director Greg Poling said AMTI had spent months trying to figure out what the purpose of the structures was.
“This is the first time we are confident to say they are anti-aircraft and CIWS sites. We did not know they had such great and advanced systems out there,” he said To Reuters.
“It’s militarization. The Chinese can argue that it’s only for defensive purposes, but if you build giant anti-aircraft guns and CIWS sites, it means you’re preparing for a future conflict.
“They continue to say they are not militarization, but they could deploy ground-to-air fighters and missiles tomorrow if they wanted to,” he said. “Now they have all the infrastructure in place for these locking rings of defense and power projection.” The report said that the facilities would likely be to safeguard a defensive umbrella provided by a future deployment of mobile surface-to-air missiles (SAM). The HQ-9 system was deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands, further north into the Southern China.
He predicts that such deployment could happen “at any time”, noting a recent report by Fox News that the components for the SAM systems have been spotted to the southeast of the Chinese port of Jieyang, possibly destined for the China Sea South.
China said military construction on the islands would be limited to defensive requirements.
The United States criticized what it called the militarization of China’s maritime outposts and stressed the need for freedom of navigation by regularly conducting air and naval patrols near them that angered Beijing .
US President-elect Donald Trump, who took office on January 20, also criticized China’s behavior in the South China Sea, saying it could adopt a firmer approach to China’s assertive behavior In the region that President Barack Obama.
The State Department said it would not comment on intelligence issues, but spokesman John Kirby added:
“We are constantly calling on China and other claimants to commit themselves to peaceful management and settlement of disputes, refraining from rehabilitating land and building new facilities and militarizing the contested elements.”