BEIJING: China confirmed that it has weapons on a disputed island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), state media said on Thursday (Friday in Manila), as US Secretary of State John Kerry slammed Beijing for “militarization” of the strategically vital region.
The US and Taiwan both said China had deployed missiles to Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain, after Fox News reported the surface-to-air weapons had arrived there in the past week.
Beijing claims all of the Paracels, though Hanoi and Taipei have overlapping claims.
It seized several islands from South Vietnam in a brief, bloody battle toward the end of the Vietnam War.
The country’s Ministry of Defense confirmed that “China has deployed weapons on the island for a long time,” reported the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling communist party.
It did not specify which weapons were on the island.
But it attempted to downplay the deployment, saying recent reports were an example of Western media playing “the same old tune” about a “China threat,” the newspaper cited the ministry’s news office as saying.
“China has the fair and legal right to deploy defense facilities within the boundaries of its own territory,” the report said.
Tensions in the sea — through which one-third of the world’s oil passes — had mounted in recent months since China transformed contested reefs on the Spratly islands further south into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.
Washington says Beijing’s actions threaten free passage in a strategically vital area and has sent warships close to the disputed islands to assert freedom of navigation, raising fears of escalation.
“There is every evidence, every day, that there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another,” Kerry told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.
Beijing, meanwhile, has insisted it has the right to build “self-defense” systems in the region.
A US official has confirmed that China has deployed surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea, as the United States expressed growing concern over China’s increased “militarization” in the region.
The official said the missiles appeared to be HQ-9s, which have a range of about 125 miles (200 kilometers).
Experts say they could be used to target enemy aircraft.
The reports came as US President Barack Obama and Southeast Asian leaders issued a joint statement calling for the “peaceful resolution” of the myriad competing claims over islands, atolls and reefs.
Analysts said the latest deployment could be an attempt to deter freedom of navigation operations.
Australian military aircraft also routinely overfly the area.
“We have said repeatedly with respect to China that the standard that should be applied to all countries with respect to the South China Sea is no militarization,” Kerry said.
He recalled that during a state visit to Washington last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed not to militarize in the disputed waters.
“We had these conversations with the Chinese and I’m confident that over the next days, we will have further very serious conversations on this,” Kerry said.
The top US diplomat expressed hope that Beijing would work to resolve the maritime disputes “not through unilateral action, not through force, not through militarization, but through diplomacy and by working with other countries and claimants.”