China has now added radar systems to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea which can totally eliminate stealth capabilities in state of the art U.S. aircraft, according to new satellite imagery released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Installing radar towers in four of the Spratly Islands took place in the second half of 2015. Some of the towers, featuring high-frequency radar, are still under construction. Radar operations would “significantly bolster China’s ability to monitor surface and air traffic across the southern portion of the South China Sea,” the report noted. With the new high-frequency radar in hand, Beijing can mitigate stealth capabilities by the F-22, the much-touted F-35, and the B-2.
Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, reiterated China considers the Spratly Islands as part of its sovereign territory and admitted the existence of purely defensive capabilities, adding of course the main purpose of any equipment is to support civilian activities.
Satellite imagery of the radar towers comes just a week after China transported HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles over to Woody Island, which is part of the Paracel chain. This chain has already been militarized since 1974 and is distinct from the Spratlys. China did not start shoring up positions on the Spratly Islands until in 1988.
According to J. Stapleton Roy, founding director at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, China has no real intentions to militarize the Spratlys, and the recent outrage over China’s movements on Woody Island makes little sense, since “there never was a presumption that China would not militarize the Paracels. Unlike the Spratly Islands, China essentially established control of the Paracel Islands in 1974.”
Roy told The Daily Caller News Foundation China has in fact constructed military infrastructure on the Spratlys, but up to this point, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has not overly militarized the Spratlys by stationing any aircraft on the islands. So far, the only people who have lived on the Spratly Islands are military personnel.
“It’s not exactly somewhere you would want to live or that’s inhabitable,” Roy said.
While it’s possible China may give in to agitation from PLA officers to further militarize the Spratlys, Beijing did sign an agreement in 2002 with other nations that have claims in the region to the effect that no power would take actions to raise tensions. If any tensions are to arise, the agreement stipulates that they should be resolved peacefully.
“I think the U.S. position as I understand it is that we don’t want tensions to rise,” Roy added. “Any actions by any claimants that serve to raise tensions are not desirable.”
The radar systems, along with the surface-to-air missiles, stand a strong chance of coming up in conversation between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Secretary of State John Kerry during Yi’s three-day visit stateside.
The U.S. has maintained it will conduct repeated freedom of navigation patrols near the islands, just to remind China that no matter how much it builds, Beijing will not be allowed to seize control of international waters.
Francesca Collins contributed to this report.
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