WASHINGTON: China has deployed fighter jets to the same contested island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to which it also has sent surface-to-air missiles, US officials said on Tuesday.
Citing two unnamed US officials, Fox News said US intelligence services had spotted Chinese Shenyang J-11 and Xian JH-7 warplanes on Woody Island in the disputed Paracel Islands chain over the past few days.
Navy Capt. Darryn James, a spokesman for US Pacific Command, confirmed the report but noted that Chinese fighter jets had previously used the island.
Woody Island, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, has had an operational airfield since the 1990s but it was upgraded last year to accommodate the J-11.
“We are still concerned that the Chinese continue to put advanced arms systems on this disputed territory,” James said.
The move was reported as US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Washington.
Last week, China confirmed it had placed “weapons” on Woody Island, defending what it said was its sovereign right to do so.
A US official told Agence France-Presse that Beijing has deployed surface-to-air missiles on the island, apparently HQ-9s, which have a range of about 125 miles (200 kilometers.)
Wang had been scheduled to visit the Pentagon earlier on Tuesday but the visit was canceled because of a “scheduling conflict,” officials said.
On Monday, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies released satellite imagery showing what appeared to be a high-frequency radar installation under construction on an artificial island on Cuarteron Reef in the Spratlys.
China’s land reclamation and military build-up in the South China Sea have drawn international condemnation and the United States has said it will continue to sail through waters claimed by Beijing.
As tensions escalate in the South China Sea, the US Army is discussing the possibility of sending mobile artillery units to the region.
Over the weekend, US President Barack Obama stated that his administration will continue to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the disputed sea.
“We think China is resorting to the old style of might makes right, as opposed to working through international law and international norms to establish claims and to resolve disputes,” Obama said in an interview with Channel News Asia.
The US and its Pacific allies have accused China of building artificial islands on top of sensitive marine habitats to establish an air defense zone in the highly contested waterway.
China maintains it has every right to build within what it considers to be its own territory, and has stated that the islands will be used primarily for humanitarian purposes.
Beijing has accused Washington of stirring unrest in the region, and new information of additional behind-the-scenes machinations have come to light.
According to a senior US Army official, speaking to Scout Warrior on condition of anonymity, the US may soon deploy mobile artillery, the kind traditionally used in land-based offensives, to the South China Sea, as defensive units.
“We could use existing howitzers and that type of munition to knock out incoming threats when people try to hit us from the air at long ranges using rockets and cruise missiles,” the official said.
Such a plan would require the cooperation of regional allies, who would have to approve the placement of the guns.
“A howitzer can go where it has to go. It is a way of changing an offensive weapon and using it in dual capacity,” the official said. “This opens the door to opportunities and options we have not had before with mobile defensive platforms and offensive capabilities.”
If approved, Washington’s weapon deployment will continue a pattern of US aggression in the South China Sea.
It has conducted a number of joint military exercises with regional allies as a show of force against China.
Over the past few months, the Pentagon has also begun conducting “freedom of navigation” exercises near Beijing’s artificial islands.
But if mobile offensive units are seen as an effective, cheaper alternative to shooting down missiles or aircraft, they could also be used beyond the Pacific.
Military officials suggest that M777 howitzers and M109 Paladins could also be used in Eastern Europe, to counter Russian “aggression.”
AFP AND PNA/SPUTNIK