“Sov­er­eign right”

Re­port says Bei­jing has put weapons on its ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands in area

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Christo­pher Bodeen

China ap­pears to have in­stalled anti-air­craft and anti-mis­sile weapons on its man-made is­lands in the strate­gi­cally vi­tal South China Sea, a U.S. se­cu­rity think tank says, up­ping the stakes in what many see as a po­ten­tial Asian pow­der keg.

The Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies said in a re­port late Wed­nes­day that the anti-air­craft guns and close-in weapons sys­tems de­signed to guard against mis­sile at­tack have been placed on all seven of China’s newly cre­ated is­lands.

The out­posts were built in re­cent years over ob­jec­tions by the U.S. and ri­val claimants by pil­ing sand on top of co­ral reefs, fol­lowed by the con­struc­tion of mil­i­tary­grade 10,000-foot airstrips, bar­racks, light­houses, radar sta­tions and other in­fra­struc­ture.

CSIS based its con­clu­sions on satel­lite im­ages taken in mid- to late Novem­ber and pub­lished on the web­site of its Asia Mar­itime Trans­parency Ini­tia­tive.

In a state­ment, China’s De­fense Min­istry re­peated that de­vel­op­ment on the is­lands was mainly for civil­ian pur­poses but added that de­fen­sive mea­sures were “ap­pro­pri­ate and le­gal.”

“For ex­am­ple, were some­one to be threat­en­ing you with armed force out­side your front door, would you not get ready even a sling­shot?” the min­istry state­ment said.

For­eign Min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang told re­porters at a daily brief­ing that he had no in­for­ma­tion about the re­ported weaponry but said such de­ploy­ments were China’s sov­er­eign right.

The Philip­pines, which has troops and vil­lagers sta­tioned on some reefs and is­lands near China’s new ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands, ex­pressed con­cern de­spite re­cently im­prov­ing re­la­tions with China.

“If true, it is a big con­cern for us and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity who uses the South China Sea lanes for trade,” De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana said. “It would mean that the Chi­nese are mil­i­ta­riz­ing the area, which is not good.”

China’s new is­land ar­ma­ments “show that Bei­jing is se­ri­ous about de­fense of its ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands in case of an armed con­tin­gency in the South China Sea,” CSIS ex­perts wrote in the re­port.

“Among other things, 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,” the re­port said.

Bei­jing says the is­lands are in­tended to boost mar­itime safety in the re­gion while down­play­ing their mil­i­tary util­ity.

They also mark China’s claim to own­er­ship of prac­ti­cally the en­tire South China Sea.

Liu Rui, Xin­hua

A Chi­nese H-6K bomber pa­trols the is­lands and reefs in the South China Sea. A U.S. think tank says re­cent im­ages ap­pear to show that China has in­stalled anti-air­craft and anti-mis­sile weapons on its man-made is­lands.

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