China de­fends ‘sling­shot’ in South China Sea joust­ing

De­fen­sive mea­sures ‘ap­pro­pri­ate and le­gal’

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY CHRISTO­PHER BODEEN

BEI­JING | Chi­nese of­fi­cials of­fered what ap­peared to be a back­handed con­fir­ma­tion a day af­ter a Wash­ing­ton think tank pub­lished new ev­i­dence that Bei­jing may have in­stalled anti-air­craft and anti-mis­sile weapons on its man-made is­lands in the strate­gi­cally vi­tal South China Sea, up­ping the stakes in what many see as a po­ten­tial Asian pow­der keg.

The Center for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, or CSIS, said in a re­port late Wed­nes­day re­ported in The Wash­ing­ton Times 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.

China has made ag­gres­sive sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, but had also long con­tended its build-up on the is­lands in the wa­ter­way were for civil­ian pur­poses. But in its first pub­lic re­sponse to the CSIS find­ings, China’s De­fense Min­istry on Thurs­day said that de­fen­sive mea­sures and in­stal­la­tions on the man-made is­lands would be “ap­pro­pri­ate and le­gal.”

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

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thurs­day that he could not con­firm the re­port, but Repub­li­can Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain said the im­agery shows China is mil­i­ta­riz­ing the South China Sea. He called for a “de­ter­mined re­sponse” from the U.S. and its al­lies.

“The United States must take im­me­di­ate steps to un­der­score our un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to free­dom of the seas and to en­force a sta­ble bal­ance of power in the re­gion,” Mr. McCain said in a state­ment.

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 mil­i­tary-grade 10,000-foot airstrips, bar­racks, light­houses, radar sta­tions and other in­fras­truc­ture.

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

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 Bei­jing.

“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.”

CSIS ex­perts wrote that 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.”

“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-be­op­er­a­tional 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.

Tai­wan, Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Malaysia and Brunei also claim ter­ri­tory in the wa­ter­way through which an es­ti­mated $5 tril­lion in global trade passes each year, while the U.S. Navy in­sists on its right to op­er­ate through­out the area, in­clud­ing in wa­ters close to China’s new out­posts.

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