While the Nimitz class carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by the missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer head into the South China Sea, the Chinese are nearing completion on more than twenty structures on artificial islands in the waterway that appear to be designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
China’s island building in the South China Sea has been called illegal by President Trump’s administration, as it demonstrates China’s efforts to lay claim to an expanse of ocean located between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The South China Sea is not only of economic value, both for trade and natural resource purposes, but is also of great tactical importance. As such, China (the nation boasting the most powerful military in the region) has claimed ownership of nearly the entire waterway, with overlapping claims coming from each of the other surrounding nations.
“It is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it, and these structures resemble others that house SAM batteries, so the logical conclusion is that’s what they are for,” said a U.S. intelligence official.
The structures are said to be more than sixty feet long and thirty feet high, resembling existing structures on the Chinese mainland that are used to house long-range missiles. Retractable roofs installed on the tops of the structures would indicate that intelligence official’s assessments of the use for these buildings is likely correct. The Chinese have already build military air strips on some of the islands as well. There are not currently any missiles deployed on any of the man-made islands, but once completed, these buildings could effectively conceal their presence.
“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,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters early on Wednesday.
However, the Pentagon disagrees, calling the island building itself an illegal activity and taking a stance that demands the “non-militarization in the South China Sea” – they issued a statement urging all nations in the vicinity to act in a manner that is consistent with international law.
On Tuesday, the Philippines referred to China’s island building and militarization of the region “very unsettling,” and asked for new dialogue between Asian nations to stop the escalation of “recent developments.”
Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay went on to say that the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is looking to China and the United States to ensure peace and stability in the region.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Shuang told reporters that the Chinese oppose the presence of America’s naval vessels in the contested waterway. While the Vinson and Meyer were already scheduled to conduct what they call “routing operations” in the region, this marks the first time the United States Navy has established a presence in the South China Sea since President Trump took office.
“We are consistently opposed to relevant countries threatening and damaging the sovereignty and security of littoral countries under the flag of freedom of navigation and overflight,” Geng Shuang said of the US Navy ships arriving over the weekend.
Image courtesy of Breaking Defense