Chinese surface-to-air missiles on the Paracel Islands no longer show up on satellite images. Beijing is angry over B52 flying over the Spratlys. Neither side wants war.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Beijing seems to have moved some surface-air missile systems from an island in the South China Sea. However, according to various experts, it might have simply hidden them for a short time, fearing increased tensions with the United States.
Satellite imagery and new analysis from Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International (ISI), dated 3 June, suggested the Chinese surface-to-air missile systems on Woody Island, in the Paracel Islands, may have been removed or relocated.
The development came after US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States would "compete rigorously" with China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Two days ago, two US B-52 bombers flew over an area of the Spratlys islands. Beijing claims full sovereignty over the Spratlys and Paracels, as well as a large chunk of the South China Sea.
In addition to being rich in natural resources (fish and oil), the sea has some of the world’s most important shipping routes. Various parts of the sea are also claimed by other countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The Pentagon is considering permanently deploying warships in the Taiwan Strait to patrol the South China Sea, where China has already placed several defence systems and built landing strips and lighthouses.
Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, defended her country. “Isn’t America sending B-52 bombers [. . .] to the South China Sea ‘militarisation’?” Hua said.
“China will not be scared by any warships or aircraft, it will only more resolutely carry out any measures needed to defend national sovereignty and security and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Hua stressed.
For Chinese experts, the redeployment of missile systems – even if temporary – shows that Beijing is trying to calm the situation.
“With the increasingly tense relations between the two countries, it’s understandable that we make a little gesture of compromise,” said Ni Lexiong, a naval expert with Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
“It’s better that we make three steps forward and two steps back, because both sides are still restrained and neither side wants to go to war.”