The Chinese military has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea according to civilian satellite imagery exclusively obtained by Fox News, more evidence that China is increasingly “militarizing” its islands in the South China Sea and ramping up tensions in the region.
The imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) shows two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea. It is the same island chain where a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed close to another contested island a few weeks ago. China at the time vowed “consequences” for the action.
Woody Island is also claimed by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and by Vietnam.
The missiles were visible by Feb. 14.
A U.S. official confirmed the accuracy of the photos. The official said the imagery viewed appears to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which closely resembles Russia’s S-300 missile system. The HQ-9 has a range of 125 miles, which would pose a threat to any airplanes, civilians or military, flying close by.
This comes as President Obama hosts 10 Asian leaders in Palm Springs, many of those leaders concerned over China’s recent activity in the South China Sea. “The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Obama said Tuesday.
The incident in the South China Sea in late January came days after Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beijing to discuss regional issues including China’s contested islands in the South China Sea.
During a press conference in Beijing with Kerry, China’s foreign minister pledged not to “militarize” the disputed islands.
Back in January China tested one of the runways by landing two civilian airliners on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly island chain of islands. Pentagon officials are concerned that military aircraft could be next.
Monday, the commander of the Navy’s 7th fleet, responsible for the waters of the western Pacific, told reporters, “We are unsure where they are taking us,” and urged Beijing to be more open with its military operations.
It could relieve “some of the angst we are now seeing,” Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin said, pledging that the U.S. military would continue to conduct freedom of operations missions close to the contested Chinese islands, including flying aircraft overhead.