After more military installations were spotted popping up on the artificial islands it has constructed in the South China Sea, China has once again denied that it militarizing the area, instead saying it is simply “readying the slingshot” to defend its own territory.
The response comes after the US-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiave (AMTI) released images showing a series of hexagonal structures that have been built on seven artificial islands in the South China Sea. First published by Reuters on Wednesday, AMTI said that the structures appear be large anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapon systems that are designed to take out incoming missiles and enemy aircraft.
At a regular press briefing in Beijing yesterday, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that he was personally unaware of the report, but reminded reporters that the South China Sea islands were undeniably part of China’s “inherent territory.”
“To conduct construction on China’s own territory and deploy necessary national defense facilities is quite normal,” Geng said, adding that it had “nothing to do with militarization.”
Meanwhile, China’s defense ministry gave its own rationale, posting on its Weibo account that that the construction was primarily for civilian use, while the military installations were necessary for “self-defense.”
“If someone were flexing his muscles outside your door, wouldn’t you get a slingshot ready?” the ministry wrote.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Beijing has been accused of militarizing the disputed region where China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all hold competing claims. Earlier this year, satellite images showed that China had deployed surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island (Yongxing Island), followed one week later by a deployment of fighter jets.
Despite these instances, China has repeatedly claimed that it has no intention to pursue militarization in the area, which it considers its own indisputable territory, dating back to ancient times, even after a tribunal court in The Hague ruled against its vast claims over the summer.
China’s military build-up in the region has been worrying neighbors for some time. Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenza said that he had yet to confirm reports of these latest military installations.
“But if true it is a big concern for us and the international community who use the South China Sea lanes for trade,” he said. “It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area which is not good.”
Meanwhile, Beijing has accused the US of being “the biggest cause of militarization in the South China Sea.” The US has challenged Beijing’s South China Sea claims through several “freedom of navigation” patrols with navy ships and planes passing near to the artificial islands.
Last week, after satellite photos showed that Vietnam had begun to dig a canal around one of its South China Sea reefs in what experts believe is preparation for dredging work, China urged its South China Sea neighbors “not to take actions that could complicate the situation.”
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, veggie gardens and military installations.
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