Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative releases new images showing that Beijing has installed weapons and missile defence systems on seven artificial islands built in disputed areas. "We did not know that they had systems this big and this advanced there,” says expert.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – In the past few months, China has installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven of the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, a US think tank reported on Wednesday, citing new satellite imagery.
. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that said it has tracked construction work on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly Islands since June, expanding on defence structures already built elsewhere in the South China Sea
AMTI said that the images appeared to show anti-aircraft guns and possibly close-in weapons systems (CIWS) to protect against cruise missile strikes. Images from Fiery Cross Reef also show towers that likely contain targeting radars.
“These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defence of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” AMTI director Greg Poling said.
AMTI has spent months trying to figure out the purposes of the structures. “This is the first time that we’re confident in saying they are anti-aircraft and CIWS emplacements. We did not know that they had systems this big and this advanced there,” the AMTI director noted.
The Chinese “keep saying they are not militarising, but they could deploy fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles tomorrow if they wanted to,” he added.
These installations would likely back up a defensive umbrella provided by a future deployment of mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) platforms like those already built in the Paracel Islands.
For years, the South China Sea region has been a bone of contention between Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and China.
Following arbitration sought by the Philippines, the International Court in The Hague ruled last July that China "has no sovereignty" rights in the area. Despite this, Beijing has pursued its aggressive policy in disputed waters, building naval and air bases on several atolls.
A few days ago, a US-based company, Planet Lab, released images showing that Vietnam too is involved in dredging and construction work on some disputed islands, setting up as many "positions" as possible to defend itself from China.