China’s Militarization Of Contested Waters Is Much More Advanced Than Previously Thought

Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Not only has China broken its promise not to militarize the South China Sea, but its militarization activities are more advanced than previously thought.

China has outfitted all seven of its artificial islands in the Spratly Islands with military equipment, a U.S. think thank revealed.

“China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS), at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands,” the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) project, introduced in a report released Tuesday.

“We did not know that they had systems this big and this advanced there,” AMTI Director Greg Poling told Reuters Wednesday.

The developments appear to be a further sign that China intends to violate its previous commitments.

“China does not intend to pursue militarization” in the South China Sea, Chinese President Xi Jinping said publicly in September 2015.

“This is militarization. The Chinese can argue that it’s only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict,” Poling explained.

Satellite images collected by the AMTI show defense equipment on Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, Cuarteron, Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reef.

“These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” the AMTI report said, “They would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases.”

“They keep saying they are not militarizing, but they could deploy fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles tomorrow if they wanted to,” Poling explained. “They have all the infrastructure in place for these interlocking rings of defense and power projection.”

Adm. Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command, called out China for its “aggressive” behavior in the South China Sea Wednesday.

“Beijing [has] choices to make,” he explained, “They can choose to disregard the rules-based international order or they can contribute to it as responsible stakeholders.”

“We will cooperate when we can but we will be ready to confront when we must,” Harris added.

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