China is reportedly nearing completion on some two dozen structures that could house long-range missiles in the South China Sea.
Reuters quotes two U.S. officials who describe “concrete structures with retractable roofs on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, part of the Spratly Islands chain where China already has built military-length airstrips.” These structures, which are about 60 feet long and 30 feet high, are similar to other Chinese installations which house surface-to-air missiles.
“China carrying out normal construction activities on its own territory, including deploying necessary and appropriate territorial defense facilities, is a normal right under international law for sovereign nations,” declared a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, without confirming or denying that the structures would contain missiles.
Several analysts said that if long-range missiles were added to the weapons China has already positioned on the disputed islands, it would significantly increase tensions in the region and perhaps challenge the United States to respond somehow. In fact, some thought the new Chinese constructions could serve little strategic purpose beyond deliberate provocation since they are highly vulnerable to attack in the event of hostilities.
Fox News notes that China has “amassed hundreds of surface-to-air missiles on Hainan island just off the mainland for training, and intelligence officials believe they could be sent to China’s man-made islands next.” Also, U.S. officials are worried that Russia may deliver advanced SA-21 missile launchers to China soon, and those weapons could end up in the South China Sea.
On Tuesday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a statement of unanimous concern about “the militarization of the region,” specifically describing the installation of Chinese weapons as “very unsettling.”
China’s Foreign Ministry fired back that the deployment of the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the South China Sea was an attempt to “undermine China’s sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight.”