Tensions continue to flare up in the South China Sea, as Beijing has reportedly installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three outposts in the region, as reported by CNBC on Wednesday, which cited sources with direct knowledge of U.S. intelligence reports. The missiles have reportedly been installed on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef.
The land-based anti-ship cruise missiles, designated as YJ-12B, allow China to strike surface vessels within 295 nautical miles of the reefs. Meanwhile, the long-range surface-to-air missiles designated as HQ-9B, have an expected range of targeting aircraft, drones and cruise missiles within 160 nautical miles. -CNBC
As we've documented again and again (and again and again), China's military buildup in the Pacific, particularly surrounding the Spratly Islands, a collection of small islands, cays and atolls in the South China Sea, is one of the greatest long-term risks to peace and stability in the US and many of China's neighbors, who have territorial claims in the region that may conflict with China's.
If confirmed, the installations would mark the first Chinese missile deployments in the Spratly Islands - a territory with claims by several Asian countries, including Taiwan and Vietnam. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hya Chunying says that the missiles are required to protect China's sovereignty.
China's missile placement comes on the heels of an april deployment of radar jammers on the Spratly islands, capable of scrambling military communications and radar systems used by US ships - a clear rebuke to the US and China's neighbors.
A US official confirmed to WSJ in April that "China has deployed military jamming equipment to its Spratly Island outposts." Furthermore, the equipment was likely installed during the last 90 days.
The U.S. assessment is supported by a photo taken last month by the commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe and provided to The Wall Street Journal. It shows a suspected jammer system with its antenna extended on Mischief Reef, one of seven Spratly outcrops where China has built fortified artificial islands since 2014, moving sand onto rocks and reefs and paving them over with concrete.
China’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment. -WSJ
The move allows China to further project its rapidly growing military influence in the region - most recently approaching the government of Vanuatu to build a permanent military base on the South Pacific Island nation.
“Those who do not intend to be aggressive have no need to be worried or scared,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.
China’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest report.
The foreign ministry said China has irrefutable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and that its necessary defensive deployments were for national security needs and not aimed at any country. -Reuters
Mawanwhile, Taiwan called the new missile installations "irresponsible," presidential office spokesman Alex Huang said on Thursday. Taiwan "will not bow down to pressure from Beijing" Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said, but "will work with friendly nations to uphold regional peace and stability and ensure our rightful place in the international community."
In response to China's increased provocations in the region, Tsai Shih-Ying of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, asking the National Defence Minister Yen Teh-fa for details surrounding Taiwan’s military program to procure a new modern main battle tank.
Yen told Tsai that Taiwan’s military would soon make a bid to purchase M1A2 tanks, an American third-generation main battle tank — the most modern armored tank in the world, from the Pentagon in the second half of 2018.
Yen also stated that the American tanks could help transfer technology to the island’s defense industry, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported, as quoted by South China Morning Post.
“The Taiwan Strait is very likely to replace the Korean peninsula as the hottest flashpoint in the region,” he warned.
“In response to the changing situation, Taiwan’s military has also increased its combat readiness.”
"In one or two months, China will hold more long-range military training and increase combined forces operations when engaged in such activities in waters near Taiwan,” Yen said when responding to another lawmaker Chiang Chi-chen about Beijing’s increased military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea.
Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank, said deploying missiles on the outposts would be important.
“These would be the first missiles in the Spratlys, either surface to air, or anti-ship,” he said.
He added that such deployments were expected as China built missile shelters on the reefs last year and already deployed such missile systems on Woody Island further to the north.
Poling said it would be a major step on China’s road to dominating the South China Sea, a key global trade route. -Reuters
“Before this, if you were one of the other claimants ... you knew that China was monitoring your every move. Now you will know that you’re operating inside Chinese missile range. That’s a pretty strong, if implicit, threat,” said Poling.
China's increased presence in the South China Sea is "a substantial challenge to US military operations in the region," says US Navy Adm. Philip Davidson, the expected nominee to replace US Pacific Command Chief Adm. Harry Harris.
In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he writes that the development of China's various forward operating bases in controversial waters appear to be complete.
"The only thing lacking are the deployed forces. Once occupied, China will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania," Davidson wrote. "In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States."