China has positioned anti-aircraft guns and advanced weapons systems on a group of disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea, a US think-tank has said after releasing new satellite pictures, adding that Beijing has further fortified its ongoing constructions in the region.
The new images taken in November show “…significant point-defence 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 Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said.
The photographs put a question mark on China’s claim it was against militarising the islands.
They revealed new constructions on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs on the Spratly islands, known as Nansha in China.
The islands and reefs are also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
“AMTI began tracking the construction of identical, hexagon-shaped structures at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs in June and July. It now seems that these structures are an evolution of point-defense fortifications already constructed at China’s smaller facilities on Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron Reefs,” the statement said.
It added: “China has built nearly identical headquarters buildings at each of its four smaller artificial islands. The two smallest of the islets, Hughes and Gaven Reefs, feature four arms built off of these central structures.”
In August, CSIS had released the first set of satellite imagery of the disputed area, showing the extent of Chinese construction.
“Satellite photographs taken two weeks ago show China building concrete aircraft hangars on disputed reefs and features in the SCS,” the CSIS had said then.
The photographs in August had emerged less than a month after an international tribunal said China doesn’t have historical rights over the region, handing petitioner and Beijing’s much smaller maritime neighbour, Philippines a minor dose of boost in the ongoing sea tussle in the region.
But clearly in the months since, China has stepped up the pace of construction in tense maritime region.
“These guns and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the SCS. Among other things, they would be the last line of defence against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases,” the AMTI said in Wednesday’s statement.
It added: “They would back up the defensive umbrella provided by a future deployment to the Spratlys of mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) platforms, such as the HQ-9 deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands.”