First missiles, now fighter jets. Just a week after it was revealed that China had deployed surface-to-air missiles to one of the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, warplanes have been seen flying to the same island.
Fox News reports that US intelligence spotted a small squadron of Chinese Shenyang J-11s and Xian JH-7s on their way to Woody Island (Yongxing Island) in the Paracels, where Beijing previously deployed two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles, as well as a possible radar system.
Once again, this news likely does not bode well for already rising tensions in the region where Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia all hold competing claims to a vast area that China claims as its own, dating back to ancient times.
This move actually comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosts US Secretary of State John Kerry. Originally, Wang was supposed to travel to the Pentagon this week, but there was some sort of “scheduling conflict.” He is asking for an end to US military patrols near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea.
“We don’t hope to see any more close-up military reconnaissance or the dispatch of missile destroyers or strategic bombers to the South China Sea,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kerry is urging for end to the dangerous militarization of the South China Sea, though he’s not pinning all the blame on China.
“It is important for all of the nations – China, Philippines, Vietnam, others – not to engage in any unilateral steps of reclamation, of building, of militarization. And the fact is that there have been steps by China, by Vietnam, by others that have unfortunately created an escalatory cycle,” he said Tuesday.
For its part, Beijing has claimed time and again that they have no intention of militarizing the islands and has accused the US of being “the biggest cause of militarization in the South China Sea.”
State media also has an important clarification to make, as CCTV puts it: “Non-militarization of South China Sea islands doesn’t mean no military facilities.” They continue:
Non-militarization of the islands in the South China Sea has been a common wish expressed by all parties in this region –including China. Top Chinese officials did say the recent reclamation of islands and reefs is mainly aimed at providing better services at sea. However, a commitment to non-militarization doesn’t mean zero military facilities. The US seems to be interpreting China’s commitments in ways that suit itself.
Last week, Wang said that the deployment of missiles to Woody island was for “defensive purposes.”
This Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying argued that Woody is to China as Hawaii is to the US.
“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,” Hua said.
In the past two years, China has built more than 3,000 acres of territory on seven reefs in the South China Sea. Despite protests from neighboring nations, they have constructed runways on three of the artificial islands, allowing tourists to arrive and visit this land of cute female soldiers and veggie gardens, and now possibly fighter jets as well.
Woody Island has particularly been an area of strategic interest. It is the largest island in the Paracels and lies 250 miles south of Hainan and hundreds of miles north of the Spratlys. A fueling station is planned for the island defended by the “Sirens of the South China Sea.”