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China to secure 'de facto' control of S. China Sea: US admiral
By Thomas WATKINS
Washington (AFP) Feb 25, 2016


China claims South China Sea defences 'absolutely necessary'
Beijing (AFP) Feb 25, 2016 - China's defences in the South China Sea are "absolutely necessary", Beijing said Thursday, as it accused the US of militarising the region.

The defence ministry spoke out as tensions rose between the two powers over reports that Beijing has deployed surface-to-air missiles, fighter jets, and radar installations in the contested region.

"The US is truly the one pushing militarisation in the South China Sea," said ministry spokesman Wu Qian at a regular monthly briefing.

"China's building of defence facilities on the South China Sea islands and reefs is absolutely necessary."

Beijing claims almost the whole of the South China Sea -- through which a third of the world's oil passes -- while several other littoral states have competing claims, as does Taiwan.

"It is China's legitimate right to deploy defence facilities within its own territory -- no matter whether that deployment was in the past or at the present, no matter whether for a temporary or long-term basis, and no matter what kind of equipment has been deployed."

A US official told AFP that Beijing has deployed surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the disputed Paracels chain -- apparently HQ-9s, which have a range of about 200 kilometres (125 miles).

Citing two unnamed US officials, American broadcaster Fox News said Tuesday that US intelligence services had spotted Chinese Shenyang J-11 and Xian JH-7 warplanes on the same island.

Reports also surfaced this week of probable radar installations on reefs in the nearby Spratly islands that would "exponentially improve" the country's monitoring capacities.

The United States has in recent months sent warships to sail within 12 nautical miles -- the usual territorial limit around natural land -- of a disputed island and reef transformed into an artificial island in what it says is a defence of the right to free passage.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Thursday concluded a visit to the US for talks with US secretary of state John Kerry, who told reporters last week: "There is every evidence, every day, that there has been an increase of militarisation of one kind or another. It's of a serious concern."

China is on its way to securing "de facto" control of the South China Sea, a top US admiral warned Thursday, amid growing unease over Beijing's continued military build up in the contested waterway.

By building air bases and hardened bunkers on tiny islands, some of which are reclaimed from the sea, and by installing sophisticated radar and missile defense systems, China has shown it is determined to achieve military primacy in the region, Admiral Harry Harris said.

Beijing's claims to almost all of the South China Sea are widely disputed and the body of water has long been viewed as a potential flashpoint.

"If China continues to arm all of the bases they have reclaimed in the South China Sea, they will change the operational landscape in the region," Harris told Pentagon reporters.

"Short of war with the United States, China will exercise de facto control of the South China Sea."

Harris, who heads up the US Pacific Command, visited the Pentagon after several hearings in Washington at which he warned lawmakers about the pace of China's maritime militarization.

"Harris is raising alarm about what could happen if there's not sufficient push back, that's what he's trying to provoke here, a more robust response from the region and outside the region," said Bonnie Glaser, a senior Asia advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The US cannot do this alone."

China is using dredgers to turn reefs and low-lying features into larger land masses for runways and other military uses to bolster its claims of sovereignty in the region.

Satellite imagery released this week shows Beijing is installing radar gear, and China has also deployed surface-to-air missiles and lengthened a runway to accommodate fighter jets on one islet, Woody Island, in the Paracels.

Beijing appears to be preparing what is known as an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the entire South China Sea, through which it can militarily query any vessel or aircraft.

"I am concerned about the possibility that China might declare an ADIZ," Harris said. "I'm concerned about it from the sense that I would find that to be destabilizing and provocative."

Still, he noted, the United States would ignore any such designation.

- Freedom of navigation -

General Joe Dunford, who is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and America's top officer, earlier on Thursday told lawmakers that he worried China wants to hamper the United States as it operates in the region.

"It's very clear to me that those capabilities that are being developed are intended to limit our ability to move into the Pacific or to operate freely within the Pacific, and we call that anti-access, aerial-denial capabilities," Dunford told the US House Appropriations Committee.

The United States has repeatedly said it rejects China's claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea, and since October has carried out two high-profile "freedom of navigation" operations in which it sailed two warships within 12 nautical miles of islets claimed by China.

"We need to, and we must, continue to exercise our rights of freedom of navigation in international waters and airspace," Harris said, adding that "like-minded" nations should do the same.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said China's military presence in the South China Sea was increasing the risk of "miscalculation or conflict" between regional countries.

"Chinese behavior is having the effect of self-isolation, and it's also galvanizing others to take action against it," he told the House Appropriations Committee.

Carter said other nations in the region are responding by stepping up their own maritime defense activities and aligning themselves with the United States.

"Old allies, like Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines, and then new partners, like Vietnam and India, that are working with us increasingly," he said.

The South China Sea is a vital waterway through which trillions of dollars of cargo flow each year, much of it destined for the United States.

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Previous Report
SUPERPOWERS
US Navy to sail more in contested parts of S. China Sea
Washington (AFP) Feb 24, 2016
The US Navy plans to increase "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea as Beijing continues its military buildup in the contested waterway, a US admiral said Wednesday. The sailings involve a US warship coming within 12 nautical miles of islets claimed by China as a way of rebutting Beijing's assertions of sovereignty. Since October, the Navy has carried out two such fre ... read more


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