Editor’s Note: Since the Chinese completed the runway and conducted initial tests on Woody Island, it was only a matter of time before aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) starting setting up shop there. So with the HQ-9 SAMs, as well as Shenyang J-11 “Flanker” and Xian JH-7 “Flounder” fighter jets, China has firmly established operations on the island, completing a big step in setting up an Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) bubble in the South China Sea.

In a move likely to further increase already volatile tensions in the South China Sea, China has deployed fighter jets to a contested island in the South China Sea, the same island where China deployed surface-to-air missiles last week, two U.S. officials tell Fox News.

The dramatic escalation cames minutes before Secretary of State John Kerry was to host his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, at the State Department.

Chinese Shenyang J-11s (“Flanker”) and  Xian JH-7s (“Flounder”) have been seen by U.S. intelligence on Woody Island in the past few days, the same island where Fox News reported exclusively last week that China had sent two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles while President Obama was hosting 10 Southeast Asian leaders in Palm Springs.

Chinese_HQ-9_launcher

Wang was supposed to visit the Pentagon Tuesday, but the visit was canceled. It was not immediately clear which side canceled the visit. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said a “scheduling conflict” prevented the meeting, when asked by Fox News at Tuesday’s press briefing.

When asked about the earlier Fox News story in Beijing, Wang said the deployment of the missiles was for “defensive purposes.”

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Woody Island is the largest island in the Paracel chain of islands in the South China Sea.  It lies 250 miles southeast of a major Chinese submarine base on Hainan Island. China has claimed Woody Island since the 1950s, but it is contested by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Ahead of Wang’s visit to Washington, a spokeswoman likened China’s military buildup on Woody Island to the U.S. Navy’s in Hawaii.

“There is no difference between China’s deployment of necessary national defense facilities on its own territory and the defense installation by the U.S. in Hawaii,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Monday.

More than $5 trillion of worth of natural resources and goods transit the South China Sea each year.

2-JH-7 DIAGRAM
Graphic courtesy of luftwaffeas.blogspot.com

Earlier Tuesday, the head of the U.S. military’s Pacific Command said China is “clearly militarizing” the South China Sea, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“You’d have to believe in a flat Earth to believe otherwise,” Admiral Harry Harris said.

China has sent fighter jets to Woody Island before. In November, Chinese state media published images showing J-11 fighter jets on the island, but this was the first deployment of fighter jets since the Chinese sent commercial airliners to test the runway at one of its artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon sailed a guided-missile destroyer past a contested island in the South China Sea as a result.  Late last year, the U.S. military conducted a flight of B-52 bombers and another warship to conduct a “freedom of navigation” exercise.

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The Chinese have protested the moves and vowed “consequences.”

On Monday, new civilian satellite imagery from CSIS showed a possible high frequency radar installation being constructed in late January.

The imagery shows radar installations on China’s artificial islands in the Spratley Island chain of reefs-Gaven, Hughes, Johnson South, and primarily on Cuarteron reefs—the outhermost island in the South China Sea.

Original article by Lucas Tomlinson can be viewed at FoxNews here.

(Featured photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen/Released)