The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), part of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, announced this week that China has largely completed construction of military installations on the artificial islands the nation has constructed in the South China Sea.  According to their report, China may begin deploying military equipment and personnel to the islands at any time.

According to AMTIs report on the islands called Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs, China’s completed projects include naval, air, radar and defensive facilities.

Satellite images taken earlier this month clearly showed what appear to be newly installed radar antennae on both Fiery Cross and Subi, prompting Greg Poling, AMTI’s director to state, “So look for deployments in the near future.”

The South China Sea has become a hotly contested region, with opposing claims over the waterway being levied by nearly every nation with a shoreline abutting it.  No nation has been more aggressive over their claims, however, than China.  China’s claims have rapidly grown to engulf larger and larger swaths of the seaway that not only contains ample fishing and natural resources, but is also used to transport up to a third of all global commerce.

The United States has actively worked to police the international waterway, using its substantial Pacific fleet to continuously counter Chinese expansion.  Their development of man-made islands has brought about a fair amount of posturing between the two nations, with the United States claiming that China has no right to the newly formed land masses, and China continuously bucking against the American presence near their shores.

Chinese officials have chosen not to address the deployment of military equipment and personnel to the islands, but took the opportunity to clearly state that the islands belong to China, and China plans to deal with them any way that they see fit.

“As for China deploying or not deploying necessary territorial defensive facilities on its own territory, this is a matter that is within the scope of Chinese sovereignty,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a daily news briefing earlier this week.

The United States did not make an official statement regarding AMTI’s report, claiming that the Defense Department doesn’t make a practice of commenting on intelligence it gathers.  Commander Gary Ross, a spokesman for the Pentagon, did however address the Chinese presence on the islands more indirectly.