In South China Sea Islands, Anti-Aircraft And Radar Systems Emerge In Full Color : The Two-Way Satellite photos show what analysts say is an array of anti-aircraft guns, cruise missile defenses, in nearly identical emplacements on islands created around large reefs.
NPR logo In South China Sea Islands, Anti-Aircraft And Radar Systems Emerge In Full Color

In South China Sea Islands, Anti-Aircraft And Radar Systems Emerge In Full Color

Highlighting new areas of Chinese construction on Mischief Reef, a monitoring group says that in addition to an airstrip, the artificial island will likely be outfitted with large anti-aircraft guns and a cruise missile defense system. CSIS/AMTI/DigitalGlobe hide caption

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CSIS/AMTI/DigitalGlobe

Highlighting new areas of Chinese construction on Mischief Reef, a monitoring group says that in addition to an airstrip, the artificial island will likely be outfitted with large anti-aircraft guns and a cruise missile defense system.

CSIS/AMTI/DigitalGlobe

China "appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities" on artificial islands in the South China Sea, says a think tank that cites new satellite imagery showing hexagonal gun platforms and other recent construction.

In vivid color, the photos show what the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says is an array of anti-aircraft guns, cruise missile defenses, in nearly identical emplacements on islands created on large reefs to serve as outposts in the Spratly Islands.

In recent years, tensions around the islands have been an undercurrent in America's relationship with China, featuring in talks between President Obama and President Xi Jinping and raising the specter of escalating shows of military might in the area.

China's military emplacement on Fiery Cross Reef includes "four structures, consisting of tiered hexagonal towers oriented toward the sea," according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. CSIS/AMTI/DigitalGlobe hide caption

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CSIS/AMTI/DigitalGlobe

China's military emplacement on Fiery Cross Reef includes "four structures, consisting of tiered hexagonal towers oriented toward the sea," according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

CSIS/AMTI/DigitalGlobe

Discussing the satellite photos that were taken in recent weeks, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative Director Gregory Poling told Voice of America, "This is further evidence that the commitment that President Xi Jinping made to President [Barack] Obama last year not to militarize these islands was, at best, premature."

The new military emplacements are being highlighted months after an international tribunal in The Hague invalidated China's claims in the South China Sea. That unprecedented ruling also found that China's build-up of artificial islands in the region was also harming natural ecosystems.

China's leaders rejected that decision, which came in a case that was brought by the Philippines. In addition to those two countries, parts of the South China Sea are also claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, the Vietnam and others.

Competing Claims In The South China And East China Seas

South China Sea and East China Sea

Notes

These are the approximate claims by China and other countries. In many cases, countries are intentionally vague about the extent of their claims.

The disputed areas include busy shipping lanes in the sea, along with a wealth of natural resources, from fishing grounds to underground oil and gas reserves.

"But the dispute is not just about economic assets," as our Parallels blog reported earlier this year. "The sea's strategic location near half a dozen East and Southeast Asian countries means those countries want to control the military and civilian activities in the area."

Providing analysis of China's military goals in the islands, the AMTI says:

"These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about 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."

As the Parallels blog noted, "The potential for deteriorating cross-strait relations puts the United States in a tough spot — it must uphold its security commitments to Taiwan while avoiding confrontation with Chinese vessels patrolling Taiwanese islands."

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