China has beefed up its military presence on disputed islands in the South China Sea, satellite images show.
The People’s Liberation Army is strengthening its position in the Paracel Islands. “The island chain plays a key role in China’s goal of establishing surveillance and power projection capabilities throughout the South China Sea,” an Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (AMTI) report claims.
Vietnam claims the Paracel Islands, but Chain controls the territories.
China reportedly occupies 20 outposts in the Paracels, and extensive militarization has occurred on eight islands.
Three of the islands “now have protected harbors capable of hosting large numbers of naval and civilian vessels. Four others boast smaller harbors, with a fifth under construction at Drummond Island. Five of the islands contain helipads, with Duncan Island housing a full helicopter base. And the largest of the Paracels, Woody Island, sports an airstrip, hangars, and a deployment of HQ-9 surface-to-air missile batteries,” the report revealed.
The surface-to-air missiles were first deployed in February 2016. Despite reports that they were removed in July, evidence suggests that they never left.
The report also identified construction materials at some of the smaller outposts, indicating that China intends to further build up its military presence in the Paracels.
In December, AMTI reported that China has militarized its seven artificial islands in the Spratly Islands.
“China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems, at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands,” the group explained.
“We did not know that they had systems this big and this advanced there,” AMTI director Greg Poling told Reuters.
China asserted that the installations are for defensive purposes.
“If somebody is flexing their muscles on your doorstep, can’t you at least get a slingshot?” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang asked, referencing U.S. freedom of navigation operations. “The necessary military installations are mainly for self-defense and are fair and legal.”
The Paracels and the Spratlys represent two corners of what is known as the “strategic triangle” in the South China Sea. The last corner is the Scarborough Shoal, which China seized from the Philippines in 2012 but has not yet aggressively militarized. Expecting pressure from the U.S. and neighboring countries, China has been enhancing its defensive capabilities and asserting its dominance through continued militarization.
For now, the U.S. is not planning any “dramatic military moves” to challenge China in the South China Sea.
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