CHINESE MILITARY CONSTRUCTION
China has made major gains in building up its military facilities on newly-created islands in the South China Sea, according to new satellite imagery made public this week.
“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 Center for Strategic and International Studies reported Tuesday.
The new facilities have expanded from Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs first spotted in June and July to point-defense fortifications on smaller facilities known as Gaven, Hughes, Johnson and Cuarteron reefs.
Satellite imagery posted online by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative shows guns and other weapons systems on several of China’s key islands that the Pentagon has said are part of a covert effort by Beijing to take control of the strategic waterway.
Disclosure of new military facilities comes as the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, warned China against further aggressive action in the South China Sea.
“We will not allow a shared domain to be closed down unilaterally no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea,” Adm. Harris said Wednesday in a speech in Sydney, Australia. “We will cooperate when we can, but we will be ready to confront when we must.”
The comments were the first by the four-star admiral on the maritime dispute since reports surfaced two months ago that he had been muzzled by the White House from making statements critical of China.
Adm. Harris said American naval forces would continue to conduct freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea to ensure the strategic waterway remains international waters.
Any decision for Australia to conduct similar operations is up to the Australian government, he added.
“The U.S. fought its first war following our independence to ensure freedom of navigation,” Adm. Harris said. “This is an enduring principle and one of the reasons our forces stand ready to fight tonight.”