THE Department of National Defense (DND) is verifying reports that China has installed weapons systems on artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that if true, China’s action would be a major concern not only to the Philippines but also to the international community that uses the disputed waterways for trade.
“It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area which is not good,” said Lorenzana.
The Defense chief was reacting to a report that claimed the Chinese had installed weapons systems on all seven artificial islands it had built in the contested waters as indicated by photographs released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a Washington-based think tank.
The Philippines’ claims to the area were upheld in July by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which invalidated the “nine-dash line” used by China to claim 90 percent of the South China Sea including the Spratly Islands and fishing areas within Philippine territory.
AMTI said that based on the tracking it conducted in June and July this year, anti-aircraft guns and other weapons systems were sitting on hexagonal structures on Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross), Panganiban Reef (Mischief) and Zamora Reef (Subi).
“China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS), at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands,” the AMTI said on its website.
“It now seems that these structures are an evolution of point-defense fortifications already constructed at China’s smaller facilities on Gaven, Hughes, Johnson and Cuarteron Reefs,” it added.
AMTI said these were indications Beijing was serious about the defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea.
“Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases. 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. Such a deployment could happen at any time, and Fox News has reported that components for SAM systems have been spotted at the southeastern Chinese port of Jieyang, possibly destined for the South China Sea,” it explained.
In September this year, the Philippine Air Force confirmed reports of the presence of several Chinese barges in the West Philippine Sea.
Lorenzana said the Air Force took photos of the Chinese ships in the disputed waterways. There were four China Coast Guard ships (one guarding the entrance to the shoal) and six other ships colored blue and in varying configurations, he said.
On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told journalists that he was not aware of the AMTI report, but said that islands in the South China Sea were the country’s “inherent territory.”
“To conduct construction on China’s own territory and deploy necessary national defense facilities is quite normal,” he said, adding that the deployment of defensive weapons had “nothing to do with militarization.”
China’s defense ministry said on a verified social media account that the construction was mostly for civilian use, and that necessary military installations were for self-defense.
“If someone were flexing his muscles outside your door, wouldn’t you get a slingshot ready?” it wrote.
WITH A REPORT FROM AFP