The Chinese military has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea, Fox News reported, citing civilian satellite imagery.
The news network said the development is further evidence that China is increasingly “militarizing” its islands in the South China Sea, thereby ramping up tensions in the region.
The imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) shows two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, the report said.
It is the same island chain where a US Navy destroyer sailed close to another contested island a few weeks ago. China at the time vowed “consequences” for the action.
Woody Island is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
The missiles arrived over the past week, the report said.
According to the images, a beach on the island was empty as of Feb. 3, but the missiles were visible by Feb. 14.
Confirming the report, a US official told Fox News the images appear to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which closely resembles Russia’s S-300 missile system.
The HQ-9 has a range of 200 kilometers (125 miles), which would pose a threat to civilian or military airplanes flying close by.
At a summit with 10 Asian leaders in California on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama said: “The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”
The Pentagon is closely watching the developments, a US defense official told Fox News. “The United States continues to call on all claimants to halt land reclamation, construction, and militarization of features in the South China Sea,” the official said.
In the past two years, China has built over 3,000 acres of territory atop seven reefs in the area. There are a total of three runways built on three of the artificial islands.
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