China defends its right to ‘ready slingshot’ in South China Sea


BEIJING – China defended its right on Thursday to put “necessary military installations” on artificial islands in the South China Sea, after a US think-tank said Beijing appeared to have deployed weapons such as anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said its findings, made available first to Reuters on Wednesday, were based on analysis of satellite images of islands in the strategic trade route, where territory is claimed by several countries.

The United States has previously criticized what it called China’s militarization of its maritime outposts, and stressed the need for freedom of navigation by conducting periodic air and naval patrols near them that have angered Beijing.

China’s Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website on Thursday that the construction it had carried out on islands and reefs in the disputed Spratlys chain was “mainly for civilian use”.

“As for necessary military installations, they are mainly for defense and self-protection and are legitimate and lawful,” it said. “If someone makes a show of force at your front door, would you not ready your slingshot?”

The United States has conducted four freedom of navigation patrols, seen as a challenge to China’s extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea, in the past year or so, most recently in October.

‘Prepping for conflict’

AMTI said satellite images of islands China has built in the Spratlys showed what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns and what were likely to be close-in weapons systems (CIWS) to protect against cruise missile strikes.

Other images showed towers that likely contained targeting radar, it said.

Beijing regards the islands as its sovereign territory, and has often said it is entitled to limited and necessary defensive installations.

AMTI director Greg Poling said the think-tank had spent months trying to figure out the purposes of the structures shown in the images.