THE Chinese military has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system on one of the contested islands in the South China Sea, Fox News reported Wednesday, citing civilian satellite imagery that it said it had obtained.
Fox News said the images from ImageSat International (ISI) show 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 that is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
The Fox News report said this was in the same island chain that a US Navy destroyer sailed close to a few weeks ago. China at the time vowed there would be consequences for the action.
A Taiwan defense ministry spokesman and US officials later confirmed the deployment of missiles.
A Chinese spokesman denied the reports, however.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the reports were an attempt by Western media to “create news stories.”
“As for the limited and necessary self-defense facilities China has built on islands and reefs stationed by Chinese personnel, that is consistent with the self-defense and self-preservation China is entitled to under international law,” Wang said.
Malacañang cautioned Wednesday against taking action against China, saying this would only exacerbate the situation.
“We’re verifying this information also. I think the President [Aquino] was also asked this morning that particular question, so we’re verifying this information,” said Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
“Whatever the situation is, we’d like to remind everyone that there is a 2002 Declaration of Conduct, where I think Section 5 states that all parties should refrain from—to paraphrase—taking any action that would exacerbate the situation,” Lacierda said.
“We continue to monitor the situation there. We are looking for verification on the reports that China has… set up a military station,” he said.
Lacierda said once the government has verification, they will ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to issue a statement.
“But again we’d like to emphasize that it will not be in the interest of any nation, considering that a large percentage of trade happens in our seas, to exacerbate the situation or to [get us to a point] where tensions may arise,” he said.
Lacierda said the Philippines’ foreign policy is based on gaining support from the community of nations.
President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday said the Philippines has no plans of either arming itself or building deterrents against China, which is aggressively asserting its dominance in disputed areas in the South China Sea.
In a speech at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council on Feb. 16 (Feb. 17 in Manila), Aquino said: “We have zero ambitions... of arming ourselves with our own weapons of mass destruction; we have no plans of trying to come up with some sort of deterrents against the military might of that superpower.”
“As for our region in Southeast Asia, we are also witnessing very aggressive actions by our big neighbor to our West and North—the world’s second largest economy, and a nuclear power at that,” Aquino said.
In his speech, Aquino also said he would rather spend the country’s limited resources on “butter” than trying to arm itself against China.
But Aquino said the Philippines would continue to assert its rights through legal and peaceful means based on international law, including its case against China before the International Arbitral Tribunal.
“My nation has resolved to accept whatever decision the Arbitral Tribunal makes, and we are hopeful that our neighbor—who has constantly reiterated their respect for international law—will in time do the same,” Aquino said.
China has consistently refused to join the arbitration process.
Aquino arrived at the Palm Springs International Airport early Tuesday morning to attend the US-Asean summit hosted by US President Barack Obama.
The Asean-US summit is expected to further strengthen and improve the Joint Strategic Partnership between Asean nations and America.
Aside from economic and trade concerns, which were discussed on the first day, the summit was set to tackle on the second day [Wednesday in Manila] maritime issues, including the South China Sea.
Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Maj Gen. David Lo told Reuters about the Chinese missile deployments on Woody Island.
“Interested parties should work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region and refrain from taking any unilateral measures that would increase tensions,” Lo said on Wednesday.
A US defense official also confirmed the “apparent deployment” of the missiles, first reported by Fox News.
News of the missile deployment came as Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations concluded a summit in California, where they discussed the need to ease tensions in the region but did not include specific mention of China’s assertive pursuit of its claims in the South China Sea.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year, and has been building runways and other infrastructure on artificial islands to bolster its claims.
China has said it would not seek militarization of its South China Sea islands and reefs, but that did not mean it would not set up defenses.
The missiles arrived at Woody Island over the past week, Fox News said. According to the images, a beach on the island was empty on Feb. 3, but the missiles were visible by Feb. 14, it reported.
A US official told Fox News the imagery viewed appears to show the HQ-9 air defense system, which has a range of 200 km and would pose a threat to any airplanes, civilian or military, flying close by.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who arrived in Beijing for high-level talks, said Australia did not take sides in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but was awaiting the outcome of a challenge by the Philippines to China’s claims before an arbitration court in The Hague.
“We recognize the Philippines’ right to seek to resolve the matter through arbitration, but we urge all claimants to settle their disputes peacefully without coercion, without intimidation,” she said.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.