China flexes muscles: further militarises disputed islands

- Varun Sharma   23-02-2016


Recent satellite images are showing – what look like Chinese high-frequency radar equipment, observation posts and communication towers under construction on the Cuarteron Reef. Cuarteron Reef in the South China Sea is the southern most tip of a chain of seven islands (part of the disputed Spratly Islands). This comes just weeks after the presence of Chinese surface-to-air missile systems was detected on another island (Woody Island). The Chinese militarisation and monitoring stations are being perceived as a threat to the balance of power in one of the world’s busiest waterways.

The images of possible radar towers were released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), shortly after 3000m Chinese runways were spotted on nearby reefs. China however claims the construction to be purely utilised for civilian use, but experts say that the facilities are most certainly “over the top” for non-military use. China’s thin veiled intentions have sent alarm bells ringing across the globe.

The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative for Strategic and International Studies at Washington's Center said (in a report) that the images showed that the facilities at Cuarteron Reef nearing completion. The artificial islands constructed by China now cover an area of about 52 acres (210,500 square meters).

"Two probable radar towers have been built on the northern portion of the feature, and a number of 65-foot (20-meter) poles have been erected across a large section of the southern portion," the report said. These poles could be a high-frequency radar installation, which would significantly bolster China's ability to monitor surface and air traffic across the southern portion of the South China Sea.

The report comes a day before a visit to the United States by China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, at which U.S. concerns about China's assertive territorial claims will be high on the agenda.

The increase of China’s military might in the South China sea makes it harder for the behemoth’s smaller neighbours – Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia to operate in the region. Even robust countries like Australia, Japan and USA will have to think twice before crossing paths with Asia’s biggest powerhouse. With its military equipment – China will be able to detect and tract vessels and plans across the Strait of Malacca (between Malaysia and Indonesia), which is the most important shipping lanes in the world.

Along with the power to detect and track ships, runways and supporting infrastructure, China will be able to project its power (further south) in the region. The radar facilities could have even more affect on the military balance in the South China Sea than China’s deployment of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the nearby Paracels earlier this month.

“There is no difference between China’s deployment of necessary national defense facilities on its own territory and the defense installation by the U.S. in Hawaii,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday. China contends that the islands it occupies “have been part of China since ancient times.”