Compiled by Bing-sheng Lee

On February 17, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said it has confirmed that surface-to-air missiles have been deployed by the Chinese military on Woody Island, a part of the Paracel Islands chain in the hotly disputed South China Sea. The island had been under Chinese control for decades, but is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense spokesperson David Lo says that Taiwan’s military has gathered information about the deployment and is closely monitoring developments.

He adds, ”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.”

Fox News reports, a United States defense official also confirmed the “apparent deployment" of the missiles. The official says the missiles appear to be HQ-9 missile batteries, which have a range of 125 miles that could pose a threat to any civilian or military airplanes flying close by.

US Secretary of State John Kerry says, ”There is every evidence that every day there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another.”

The deployment escalates regional tensions that have been inflamed by China’s extensive effort to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, bolstering its claim to sovereignty over the area.
In the past two years, China has built over 3,000 acres of territory atop seven reefs in the area. There are a total of three runways built on three of the artificial islands.

The US claims no territory in the South China Sea, but has expressed serious concerns about how China’s increasingly assertive pursuit of territorial claims in the region could affect vital global trade routes that pass though.

Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

China: deployment appropriate and reasonable

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi does not deny that missile launchers have been installed, but says the reports are an attempt by certain western media to create hype.

“As for the limited and necessary self-defense facilities China has built on islands and reefs stationed by Chinese personnel, those are consistent with the self-defense and self-preservation China is entitled to under international law,” he says.

A foreign ministry spokesman also sidesteps confirming the deployment, but says, “Whether or not to deploy defense facilities on the islands is totally within China’s sovereignty. It has nothing to do with militarization.”

Wang also rejects criticism aimed at China for building infrastructure on the island, including lighthouses and weather stations.

He says, “All of those are actions that China, as the biggest littoral state in the South China Sea, has undertaken are to provide more public good and services to the international community, and play a positive role.”

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

Deployment heightens concerns in the region

The development reverberated through a leaders’ meeting of Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in California, hosted by US President Barack Obama.

At the meeting on February 16, Obama said freedom of navigation must be upheld and lawful commerce should not be impeded. “The US will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he said. “We will support the right of other countries to do the same.”

Many ASEAN leaders are concerned over China’s recent activity in the South China Sea. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urges Obama to hold a strong voice and take more practical actions to put an end to activities aimed at changing the status quo in the region.

Dung says the developments were “a real threat to peace, security, safety and freedom of navigation and aviation.”

In the Philippines, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda tells state-owned Philippines News Agency that the country is in favor of moves not to “exacerbate tensions in the South China Sea.”

Taiwanese President-elect Tsai Ing-wen responds to the news by calling on “all parties to exercise self-control based on the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea," according to Central News Agency.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says Beijing’s actions are unacceptable.
Suga says, ”It is a common concern of the international community that China tries to change the situation and increase tensions in the South China Sea by carrying out extensive and rapid land reclamation, building its base in the region and utilizing it for military purposes.”

“We have deep concerns over such actions and want to re-emphasize that Japan cannot accept it,” he adds.

Edited by Olivia Yang

“China: Missiles have been on South China Sea island for years” (CNN)
“U.S. expects ‘very serious’ talks with China after missile reports” (Reuters)
“Beijing places missile launchers on disputed South China Sea island” (The Guardian)
“China Deployed Missiles on Disputed Island, U.S. Says” (New York Times)
“Exclusive: China sends surface-to-air missiles to contested island in provocative move” (Fox News)
“China sends missiles to contested South China Sea island: Taiwan” (CNBC)
“China deploys missiles to disputed island in South China Sea, Taiwan says” (USA TODAY)