China’s construction of its military infrastructure in South China Sea almost complete
China is nearing completion of offensive and defensive military facilities on artificial islands in the South China Sea, according to a March 2017 analysis by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI).
“Major construction of military and dual-use infrastructure on the ‘Big-3’ — Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs — is wrapping up, with naval, air, radar and defensive facilities that AMTI has tracked for nearly two years largely complete. Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time,” AMTI said on the basis of March 2017 satellite images.
“So look for deployments in the near future,” Greg Poling, AMTI director, told Reuters. The initiative is part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, based in Washington, D.C.
“As for China deploying or not deploying necessary territorial defensive facilities on its own territory, this is a matter that is within the scope of Chinese sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters after AMTI released its analysis.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also make competing claims in the sea that challenge China’s claim of such sovereignty. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than U.S. $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.
Earlier in March 2017, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang acknowledged that China had put defense equipment on the islands to maintain “freedom of navigation,” Reuters reported.
China now is capable of operating military aircraft over most of the South China Sea, the AMTI report said, as well as radar systems that offer protection against air and missile strikes.
On Fiery Cross Reef, pictured, for example, China has built enough hangars to hold 24 combat aircraft and four larger planes to accommodate intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, transport, refueling or bomber aircraft, and it has completed a significant radar and sensor array, satellite images reveal.
In addition to nearly completing comparable facilities on the other two big air bases in the Spratlys, Subi and Mischief reefs, “China has maintained HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems on Woody Island for more than a year and has on at least one occasion deployed anti-ship missiles to the island,” the report said.
Moreover, on Subi Reef, China appears to have completed a high-frequency radar array on the southern end, which is “unique among the Big 3,” the AMTI report said.
“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,” a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters.