China Raises Stakes As US, Asian Nations Hold Summit

Talk about timing. This week it was reported by Fox News that the Chinese military has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to Woody Island, one of its contested islands in the South China Sea.

The images, from ImageSat International, show two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers stationed on one of the islands that makes up the Paracel island chain in the South China Sea, according to Fox News. China, as well as Taiwan and Vietnam, have claimed ownership of Woody Island.

Additionally, the sole operational Chinese military airstrip in the South China Sea is located on Woody Island and it has been reported by The Diplomat that Beijing may be constructing at least two additional airstrips in the Spratly Islands.

Beijing’s continued pursuit of a military build-up of the islands comes as the US and prominent Asian leaders gather for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) gather in California for a series of meetings. The recently signed multi-nation trade deal and ongoing territorial disputes are both on the agenda at this week’s summit.

The White House said it intends to stress to all parties that a diplomatic solution must be the first priority.

“We will continue to underscore the principle that these issues have to be resolved consistent with international norms and not through bigger nations bullying smaller ones,” said White House spokesman Ben Rhodes.

China also paid rhetorical due to diplomacy after meetings with Australian foreign defense officials.

After talks with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the construction of airfields are part of its self-defense, are limited and necessary, and consistent with self-protection provisions that China is entitled to under international law.

In January, in response to a decision by the US to dispatch a Navy destroyer within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, China landed a test flight on one of the newly-constructed airfields, an action which drew an official protest from Vietnam that Beijing was violating its sovereignty.

“We are concerned that these test flights have exacerbated tensions and are inconsistent with the region’s commitments to exercise restraint from actions that could complicate or escalate disputes,” said Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a State Department spokeswoman said at the time.

The actions are reactions are part of an ongoing escalation of tensions in the South China Sea as the US and China have been engaged in tit-for-tat military engagements for since April 2015.

The recent developments on the disputed islands is of concern to US military officials who believe China could eventually deploy radar and missile systems for the purposes of establishing an air-defense identification zone.

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