Tensions over China’s activities in the South China Sea just went up a notch. Satellite imagery has revealed the Chinese military’s deployment of an advanced surface-to-air missile system to Woody Island, part of the contested Paracel chain and also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
After Fox News first reported on the satellite images showing the deployment, Reuters confirmed today with Taiwan’s defense ministry that the missile batteries had been set up on the island. A US defense official also confirmed the “apparent deployment” of the missiles.
Imagery from ImageSat International reveals two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers, plus a radar system, on Woody Island, Fox reported. The weaponry arrived over the past week or so, judging by satellite imagery. What had been an empty area on Feb. 3 was occupied by the missiles by Feb. 14.
On Jan. 30, a US Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island—also part of the Paracels—in a freedom-of-navigation exercise. A few days later, China’s foreign-ministry spokesman called that action “dangerous and irresponsible” and said the US was “seriously harming relevant regional peace and stability.” A subsequent column in the state-controlled Xinhua newswire said, “Facts have proved that China, instead of doing any harm to the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, has provided public services to ensure the safety of all vessels sailing in the waters.”
After China added runways and other facilities to its manmade islands in the sea’s similarly contested Spratly archipelago, it also claimed they were merely for civilian use, and argued that its intent with the new infrastructure was to provide services to passing ships.
It is unclear what services surface-to-air missiles might provide to passing ships or civilians.