China denies sending surface-to-air missiles to contested island

(From AP)

Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday sought to downplay reports that China had positioned anti-aircraft missiles on a disputed South China Sea island, accusing the media of hyping the issue and saying more attention should be paid to what he called “public goods and services” provided by China’s development of its maritime claims.

Images of the Woody Island beach on Feb. 14

Images of the Woody Island beach on Feb. 14

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement it had “grasped that Communist China had deployed” an unspecified number of missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel group. The Philippines said the development increased regional tensions.

The move would follow China’s building of new islands in the disputed sea by piling sand atop reefs and then adding airstrips and military installations. They are seen as part of Beijing’s efforts to claim virtually the entire South China Sea and its resources, which has prompted some of its wary neighbors to draw closer to the U.S.

The most dramatic work has taken place in the Spratly Island group, where the militaries of four nations have a presence, although similar work has also gone on at Woody and other Chinese holdings in the Paracels.

“The military will pay close attention to subsequent developments,” the Taiwanese ministry statement said. Relevant parties should “work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region to refrain from any unilateral measure that would increase tensions,” the statement added.

Fox News reported (Watch video clip) that China had moved surface-to-air missiles to the Paracels, identifying them as two batteries of the HQ-9 system, along with radar targeting arrays. The missiles have a range of about 125 miles, making them a threat to all forms of civilian and military aircraft.

Following talks with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, Wang said he had become aware of the missile reports just minutes before.

“We believe this is an attempt by certain Western media to create news stories,” Wang said.

Echoing claims that the development was largely civilian-oriented and benefited the region, Wang pointed to the construction of light houses, weather stations, and rescue and shelter facilities for fishermen.

“All of those are actions that China, as the biggest littoral state in the South China Sea, has undertaken to provide more public goods and services to the international community and play its positive role there,” Wang said.

He said China’s construction of military infrastructure was “consistent with the right to self-preservation and self-protection that China is entitled to under international law, so there should be no question about that.”

Bishop reiterated that, like the U.S., Australia does not take sides on the issue of sovereignty, but urges all sides to maintain peace and stability. Australia welcomes statements by Chinese President Xi Jinping that “China does not intend to militarize these islands,” she said.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said he was unable to confirm the missile reports, but added the issue “concerns me greatly.” Read More



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