The UK Daily Mail cites Chinese media reports that “anti-frogman” rocket launchers have been installed on a disputed South China Sea island to keep Vietnamese divers at bay.
According to this report, the 55mm rocket launchers were deployed in Fiery Cross Reef, which has been claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan, as well as China.
The report, which came from China’s state-run Defense Times, did not specify when the rocket launchers were installed, but it repeated complaints about Vietnamese divers setting up fishing nets around disputed islands that dated back to May 2014. The new weapons were portrayed as a defense against Vietnamese “combat divers” rather than fishermen.
Japan Times points out that only a few days ago, China and Vietnam pledged to work together to “manage and properly control maritime disputes,” avoid actions that would “complicate the situation,” and “maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Tensions between China and Vietnam over the islands have grown so much that the Financial Times described the islands in March as “flashpoints for confrontation that could pit Beijing against not just Hanoi but the new administration in Washington.”
Fiery Cross Reef does not look like a “reef” anymore, thanks to massive Chinese development and militarization. It has become an artificial island, of great strategic importance to China because it now boasts an airstrip that can land military planes.