China can deploy warplanes on artificial islands any time -think tank

China appears to have largely completed major construction of military infrastructure on artificial islands it has built in the East Sea, internationally known as South China Sea, and can now deploy combat planes and other military hardware there at any time, a U.S. 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, Subi and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly Islands 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.

Vietnam on Thursday confirmed this, Tuoi Tre reported.

“Related parties need to respect Vietnam’s sovereignty, act responsively, and should neither complicate the situation nor threaten peace, stability and maritime security in the East Sea,” foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters.

Binh reiterated that Vietnam has sufficient legal grounds and historical evidence to claim sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa Spratly) archipelagos.

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

AMTI said China’s three air bases in the Spratlys and another on Woody Island in the Paracel chain further north would allow its military aircraft to operate over nearly the entire South China Sea, a key global trade route that Beijing claims most of.

china-can-deploy-warplanes-on-artificial-islands-any-time-think-tank

Subi Reef is shown in this handout satellite image dated August 8, 2012 and provided by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe September 14, 2015. Photo by Reuters/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/Digital Globe/Handout via Reuters

The think tank said advanced surveillance and early-warning radar facilities at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Cuarteron 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 for 24 combat aircraft and three larger planes, including bombers.

U.S. officials told Reuters 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, new U.S. 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.

He subsequently softened his language, saying that in the event of an unspecified “contingency,” the United States and its allies “must be capable of limiting China’s access to and use of” those islands to pose a threat.

In recent years, the United States has conducted a series of what it calls freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, raising tensions with Beijing.



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