The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

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 point­de­fense 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.”

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