China has just upped the ante of its military by sending over powerful fighter jets to a disputed island in the South China Sea, a move that may cause tensions to spiral out of control.
The introduction of Shenyang J-11s and Xian JH-7s considerably ups the stakes, Fox News reports. U.S. intelligence estimates the number of aircraft on Woody Island to be fewer than ten.
Woody Island is where China recently sent over two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles. China has characterized the missile deployment as purely defensive in nature. For China, building defenses on Woody Island is little different from the U.S.’s defense of Hawaii.
New satellite imagery also shows that the Chinese spent the latter half of 2015 constructing radar towers to eliminate any stealth capabilities possessed by U.S. aircraft, such as the F-22 and the F-35.
Secretary of State John Kerry stated Tuesday the United States is requesting an end to “the expansion and the militarization of occupied features,” though Kerry notably avoided placing any of the blame directly on China.
In response, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said if the U.S. really wants an end to militarization, it should halt all freedom of navigation patrols in the area. Yi had a meeting scheduled at the Pentagon Tuesday, but for unknown reasons the meeting was canceled.
China’s recent activities in the South China Sea have not been lost on the U.S. Navy.
Adm. Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command, told Congress in a hearing Tuesday that “you have to believe in a flat Earth” to assume China’s goal is anything other than militarization of the South China Sea.
Harris has called for the Pentagon to engage in more surveillance of the area, though now that China has installed high-frequency radar installations on the Spratly Islands, the task may be more difficult. According to Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, the radar is just another sign of increasing militarization in the South China Sea. This sign has not gone unnoticed by other countries with competing claims.
“I think that the radar is just part of an incremental militarization – probably not that surprising given some of the other actions in the South China Sea,” Kurlantzick told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Other countries in the region understand that the South China Sea is becoming a major area of military contestation – you can see from earlier this week, a report by SIPRI in Stockholm – that Vietnam has become one of the largest arms purchasers in the world. These purchases are primarily designed to defend Vietnam’s maritime interests. Other Southeast Asian nations like the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore also are assertively upgrading their maritime abilities.”
The danger of Chinese mobilization is that the arms race it has caused may escalate to serious conflict.
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