China Installs Weapons Systems in Disputed Waters: Report
DIGITALGLOBE / Reuters
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing in Beijing that he “did not understand” the situation referred to in the report.
Beijing says the manufactured islands are intended to boost maritime safety in the region while downplaying their military utility. They also mark China’s claim to ownership of practically the entire South China Sea, its islands, reefs and other maritime features.
Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim territory in the waterway through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year, while the U.S. Navy insists on its right to operate throughout the area, including in waters close to China’s new outposts. China has strongly criticized such missions, formally termed Freedom of Navigation Operations.
The U.S. has committed to beefing up its military presence in the area, although new uncertainty has been introduced by incoming president Donald Trump who broke long-established diplomatic protocol by
Trump has called for a reconsideration of its commitments to its Asian allies, including Japan and South Korea, while simultaneously criticizing Chinese trade policy toward the U.S. along with its new territorial assertiveness.
Trump referred to China’s man-made islands in a tweet earlier this month, saying Beijing didn’t ask the U.S. if it was OK to “build a massive military complex in the South China Sea.”
“The timing is significant in that these first clear images come amid Trump’s challenging comments about China and its South China Sea fortresses,” said Alexander Neill, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security for the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in Singapore.
Wang Xiaopeng, a Chinese analyst on South China Seas affairs, alleged that it was “the U.S. that is militarizing the South China Sea.”
Speaking to NBC News, Wang added: “The situation in the South China Seas is basically stable. China and the nearby nations are meeting halfway in most cases and are willing to ease the possible tension. But big nations outside this region, like the U.S. who plays as a leader, are disturbing the status quo.”
In all, China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres of land in the southeastern South China Sea. The U.S. says the building doesn’t give China any additional territorial rights and an international arbitration panel in the Hague ruled over the summer against China’s historical claim to ownership of waters within the South China Sea. Beijing has ignored the ruling.
China has sought to emphasize the usefulness of the island developments for civilian navigation in the area, while also asserting its right to equip them with whatever means deemed necessary for their defense. Chinese President Xi Jinping said on a visit to the U.S. last year that “China does not intend to pursue militarization” of the area, prompting some foreign experts to accuse China of going back on its word with its new deployments.