China has secretly installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles at its outposts in the South China Sea, CNBC reported, citing sources with direct knowledge of relevant U.S. intelligence reports.
The weapons systems were reportedly deployed to Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, contested territories China has heavily militarized in recent years.
The Chinese missiles, believed to have been deployed within the last month, include YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles with the ability to strike surface vessels roughly 300 nautical miles from shore and HQ-9B surface-to-air missiles able to eliminate airborne targets 160 nautical miles away. Similar weaponry has been deployed in the Paracel Islands as well.
“Those who do not intend to be aggressive have no need to be worried or scared,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Thursday in response to the news.
China has repeatedly argued that its military deployments in the South China Sea are defensive. “If somebody is flexing their muscles on your doorstep, can’t you at least get a slingshot?” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang asked in December 2016, adding, “The necessary military installations are for self-defense and are fair and legal.”
“Calling missiles ‘defensive’ that are deployed on illegally seized features in international waters … strains the definition of the word,” Ashley Townshend, director of the Foreign Policy and Defense Program at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, argued on Twitter. “This is power projection,” he further asserted.
Gregory Poling, an expert at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Reuters that this development is an unmistakable threat to other claimant states in the region.
“Before this, if you were one of the other claimants … you knew that China was monitoring your every move. Now you will know that you’re operating inside Chinese missile range. That’s a pretty strong, if implicit, threat,” Poling explained.
Admiral Philip Davidson, who is expected to take over U.S. Pacific Command, warned in April that China has apparently completed the construction of military outposts in the South China Sea, noting, “The only thing lacking are the deployed forces.”
“China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” he added.
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