The latest developments come at a time when President-elect Donald Trump has made it plain that he will play hardball with China
If there were any questions as to how far China will go to bolster its claim to the South China Sea, the world got another clue this week that leaves no doubt that Beijing is playing for high stakes.
A series of satellite images released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative show that China has bulked up its military presence on the Spratly Islands by installing large antiaircraft guns and close-in weapons systems.
The AMTI, which had been tracking the construction of the structures since this summer, concluded that these facilities at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs are more evolved point-defense fortifications that are already installed at Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron Reefs.
Here are some of the images of those installations:
Fiery Cross Reef
“These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” said AMTI in a statement on its website.
The think-tank believes the weaponry will be the “last line of defense” against cruise missiles launched by the U.S.
“They would back up the defensive umbrella provided by a future deployment to the Spratlys of mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) platforms, such as the HQ-9 deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands,” said the AMTI.
China’s activities in the disputed region are a direct contradiction of President Xi Jinping’s pledge to refrain from militarization in the archipelago. They also raise concerns that Beijing will increasingly resort to military force to bolster its territorial claims and control a key shipping route that accounts for $5 trillion of international trade annually, The Wall Street Journal said.
Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said Wednesday that the U.S. won’t allow the region to be shut down by China “no matter how many bases are built,” the newspaper said.
“We will cooperate where we can and be ready to confront where we must,” he said.
At his disposal is the formidable U.S. Pacific Fleet which includes 200 ships and submarines, more than 1,000 aircraft and 140,000 personnel.
The latest developments come at a time when President-elect Donald Trump has made it plain that he will play hardball with China. Trump has already broken with tradition by accepting a congratulatory call from President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan earlier this month. In the days since, Trump had indicated that the once tamper-proof One-China Policy, which labels Taiwan as a renegade province of China, will likely be reviewed, if not overhauled.
Beijing lashed out in an editorial in the state-backed Global Times, calling Trump naive and warned that China could go as far as to provide military assistance to U.S.’s enemies.
“China needs to be fully armed and prepared to take a Sino-U. S. roller coaster relationship together with Trump. And many others in the world will probably also need to fasten their seat belts,” said the newspaper.