China has placed surface-to-air missile equipment on one of the disputed islands in the South China Sea, newly published satellite images appear to show.
Tensions in the region could rise after two batteries of eight missile launchers and a radar system were deployed to Woody Island in the past week according to images taken by the private company Image Sat International.
The mages were first published by Fox News.
The missile move has been confirmed by Taiwan which also claims sovereignty of the island. Maj Gen David Lo told Reuters news agency that Taiwan “will closely watch subsequent developments.”
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.
An image dated 14 February showed the presence of the equipment, whereas the same area looked to be empty in an image dated 3 February.
Fox News cited a US official as saying the images appeared to show the HQ-9 air defence system, which had a range of about 125 miles (200km) and could therefore threaten any nearby planes.
The US Department of Defence gave a statement to the Guardian when asked about the missile move. While I cannot comment on matters related to intelligence, we do watch these matters very closely.
The United Sates continues to call on all claimants to halt land reclamation, construction, and militarisation of features in the South China Sea.
China branded that action as “highly dangerous and irresponsible” and accused the US of being “the biggest cause of militarisation in the South China Sea”.A US navy destroyer sailed close to the disputed Paracel Island chain, which includes Woody Island, in a “freedom of navigation” exercise late last month. China, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims in the area and the US has objected to any “militarising” of the islands.
Barack Obama, who is hosting meeting of Asean leaders in California, said on Tuesday that 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.
The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, is due to address the media in Beijing on Wednesday alongside his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, who is in the capital for annual strategic talks.
Bishop said before the trip that she intended to question China about its activities in the South China Sea.