China deploys surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea, say Taiwan and US Officials.
One of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea
Tensions in the South China Sea region have flared after reports China deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile from Woody Island, which is part of the disputed Paracel Island chain.
This comes after Fox News published satellite images taken on February 14 appearing to show two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air missile launchers and a radar system on the island coastline. The HQ-9 is a Chinese-made mobile air defence system, with a reported range of 125 miles which could pose a threat to airplanes, civilians or military flying close by, according to US defence official.
The island has been under Chinese control for more than 40 years, despite both Taiwan and Vietnam claiming ownership. However, the presence of missiles would significantly increase tensions in the ongoing dispute and frictions have already sparked concerns that area is becoming a flashpoint with global consequences.
Taiwan defence ministry spokesman Major General David Lo said missile batteries have been set up on the island and Japan said it had “gave concerns” over China’s moves in the South China Sea.
China however, disregards the accusations and a ministry spokesman said any deployment of missiles on its territory would be legitimate.
“I want to stress that the Paracel Islands are China’s inherent territory, China is absolutely within its legitimate rights to deploy defence facilities on its own territory,” Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
Mr Lei said he was not aware of the specifics of the situation but added that any facilities built would be in relation to national defence, not militarisation. He also accused western media of creating the missile deployment story after Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement it had “grasped that Communist China had deployed” an unspecified number of missiles on the disputed island.
Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the US Pacific Command, said the deployment of missiles to the Paracels are contrary to China’s pledge not to militarize the region.
Japanese government spokesperson Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said China has changed the “status quo” in the region and “we cannot accept this fact”.
China’s Defence Ministry said defence facilities on “relevant islands and reefs” had been in place for many years, adding that reports were nothing but “hype”.
China claims it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters, controlling most of the region including the large Paracel and Spratly islands.
The area is rich in natural resources and fish with the presence of many low-lying islands and reefs. Despite this, it is the world’s second busiest trade route with $5 trillion in global trade passing through every year.
The United States said it will continue conducting freedom of navigation patrols by ships and aircraft to assure unimpeded passage through the region, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.