by WorldTribune Staff, March 28, 2017
China is close to completing a major infrastructure project on several artificial islands that will enable it to deploy warplanes that would be able to operate over nearly the entire South China Sea, a Washington-based think tank said.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported on March 27 that construction work on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs in the Spratly Islands included naval, air, radar and defensive facilities.
The think tank 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.
Beijing 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, AMTI said.
AMTI cited satellite images taken this month, which its director, Greg Poling, said showed new radar antennae on Fiery Cross and Subi, Reuters reported.
“So look for deployments in the near future,” Poling said.
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.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said 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” the artificial islands.
China denies 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.”
Pentagon spokesman Gary Ross said that “China’s continued construction in the South China Sea is part of a growing body of evidence that they continue to take unilateral actions which are increasing tensions in the region and are counterproductive to the peaceful resolution of disputes.”