China will be able to launch military attacks from artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea within months, according to US intelligence.
It can project “substantial offensive military power” from the disputed Spratly Islands, Reuters reports, citing national intelligence chief James Clapper.
This military capability extends “beyond that which is required for point defense of its outposts”, Clapper said in a Feb. 23 letter to John McCain, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Based on the pace and scope of construction at these outposts, China will be able to deploy a range of offensive and defensive military capabilities” and support the navy and coast guard, he said.
“Once these facilities are completed by the end of 2016 or early 2017, China will have significant capacity to quickly project substantial offensive military power to the region,” Clapper added.
The US has voiced concerns about China’s assertive pursuit of territory in the South China Sea.
The sea is one of the world’s busiest trade routes and regional countries have rival claims, creating a potential flashpoint.
Visiting Washington in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping responded to US worries by saying that China had no intention to militarize its outposts in the Spratlys.
Beijing has said their military roles will be defensive but the head of the US Pacific Command said last month China was “clearly militarizing” the South China Sea with the aim of achieving East Asian hegemony.
The text of Clapper’s letter in response to questions from McCain was published on the news portal of the US Naval Institute.
US officials confirmed the content.
Clapper said that while the US has yet to observe deployment of significant Chinese military capabilities in the Spratlys, China has built facilities able to support them, including modern fighter aircraft.
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