According to reports from Taiwan, China has moved anti-aircraft missiles to a disputed island in the South China Sea.
Tensions in the disputed South China Sea have been increasing for some time, and this missile deployment sparks fears that China is preparing for war. However Chinese officials have consistently denied that the country’s actions are hostile.
Chinese officials claim deployment would be “legitimate and reasonable”
When asked about the situation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said any missile deployment on Chinese territory would be “legitimate and reasonable” but maintained that he was “not aware of the specifics” of the situation.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement it had “grasped that Communist China had deployed” a number of missiles on Woody Island. The island is one of a number in the Paracels chain, which has been controlled by China for decades but is also subject to claims from Taiwan and Vietnam.
China has previously been building new islands in the area by reclaiming land from the sea before building airstrips and military bases on top. It is thought that Beijing wants to strengthen its claims to the entire South China Sea and the bountiful resources which lie beneath. As a result other regional powers have appealed to the U.S. for help.
South China Sea the site of increasing tension
Beijing has carried out extensive work in the Spratly Island group, but there have also been construction projects at Woody and other Paracel islands. President Obama and the leaders of the 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed their desire for a peaceful solution to the maritime disputes in the region.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama and the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations called for the peaceful resolution of the region’s maritime disputes. The U.S. is committed to maintaining free navigation in the area and will be carrying out “freedom of navigation patrols” to show China that it does not recognize its sovereignty.
Omar Hamid, head of Asia analysis at IHS, told NBC News that the missiles are just the latest stage in Chinese military advancement in the area.
“If you saw things continue to go in this direction, you could probably see things like aircraft transport or perhaps even fighter jets being brought in,” he said. “This is sending out a message, saying, ‘This is our backyard and we can deploy what we like.'”
Freedom of navigation must be maintained, say U.S. officials
Hamid said that the lack of appetite for conflict means that Washington can only use military patrols and joint exercises to reassure its regional allies.
“However, all something like that will do is act as a further irritant to China, whose position is that this is their backyard, much as the same way as the U.S. would treat the Gulf of Mexico, for instance,” he added.
In a show of strength, a U.S. Navy destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels chain last month. The Pentagon claimed that the maneuver was designed to maintain freedom of navigation.
Beijing has repeatedly claimed that it opposes the militarization of the South China Sea, but that it would still set up defensive positions. A State Department spokesman said: “While I cannot comment on matters related to intelligence, we do watch these matters very closely. The United States continues to call on all claimants to halt land reclamation, construction, and militarization of features in the South China Sea.”