China may not have troops or planes in Syria but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a part of World War III.
Even as the eyes of the world are now trained squarely on the Mid-East where the Russian and Iranian assault on Aleppo is set to draw the Saudis and the Turks into a ground war, the dispute over a tiny chain of islands in the South China Sea is still simmering.
Beijing has built some 3,000 acres of new sovereign territory atop reefs in the Spratlys, in what is now a long-running effort to expand the country’s maritime capabilities in waters China claims as its own.
The world began to take notice early last year and before you knew it, Washington’s regional allies were exceptionally upset with China’s “sandcastle” construction, which some view as an illegitimate attempt to militarize the island chain at the expense of peace and stability.
For its part, China says it has every right to do as it pleases in the Spratlys and in fact, at least one Chinese official has said that the PLA would be well within its rights to forcibly expel any country who seeks to occupy islands China doesn’t control.
Tensions escalated in May when China threatened a Poseidon spy plane with a CNN crew aboard and the situation was exacerbated further in October when the US finally “went there” and sent a warship to the islands in what the US dubbed a “freedom of navigation” exercise.
Through it all, China has indicated that it may establish what amounts to a no-fly zone over the islands and now, it appears the PLA is ready to make good on that threat because as Fox News first reported (yes, that’s right, Fox News somehow managed to get an exclusive) last night, China has deployed surface-to-air missile system on Woody Island.
“The imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) shows two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea,” Fox said, adding that “the missiles arrived over the past week [as] the beach on the island was empty on Feb. 3, but the missiles were visible by Feb. 14.”
“A U.S. official confirmed the accuracy of the photos,” Fox goes on to claim. “The official said the imagery viewed appears to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which closely resembles Russia’s S-300 missile system [and] has a range of 125 miles.”
Here are the images:
"Asked about the missiles at a briefing in Beijing, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that limited self-defense facilities on Woody Island are consistent with China’s self-protection policies and international law," Bloomberg reports. "He described the report as Western media hype." He also said the West should focus more on the lighthouses China has built on the islands which should help to protect the $5 trillion in shipping that moves through the region each year.
Right. It's all "Western media hype." This is just the PLA putting air defense systems in place on islands that China is definitely not militarizing. Nothing to see here, move along...
“This calls into direct question the seriousness of President Xi’s statement [that China doesn't seek to militarize The South China Sea]," U.S. Pacific Command chief Harry Harris said.
Yes, it most certainly does and now that the HQ-9s are in place, you can expect to see more incidents like the one recorded below.