Saturday 10 December 2016

China deploys missiles on disputed South China Sea island - Taiwan

Published 17/02/2016 | 06:47

Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen waves as she declares victory in the presidential election in Taipei, Taiwan (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)
Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen waves as she declares victory in the presidential election in Taipei, Taiwan (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)

China has positioned anti-aircraft missiles on a disputed South China Sea island, Taiwan said.

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Its ministry of national defence said it had "grasped that Communist China had deployed" an unspecified number of missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel group.

The island is claimed also by Taiwan and Vietnam and is watched closely by Washington.

The move would follow China's efforts to build new islands in the disputed sea by piling sand on top of reefs and then adding airstrips and military installations.

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 ministry said.

Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen issued a call for calm, saying: "We urge every party to uphold peace in settling the South China Sea dispute and use self-restraint."

US network Fox News also said China had moved surface-to-air missiles to the Paracels, identifying them as two batteries of a system known as HQ-9, 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.

Taiwan and China claim almost the whole 1.35 million-square-mile South China Sea, including the Paracel chain.

Vietnam and the Philippines claim much of the ocean, as well. Brunei and Malaysia have smaller claims.

Home to some of the world's busiest sea lanes, the ocean is also rich in fisheries and may hold oil and natural gas reserves under the seabed.

China's move is likely to worry Vietnam the most because of its proximity to the Paracels and because of a history of maritime tensions with China that culminated in 2014 with a stand-off after China moved a massive oil rig into disputed waters.

China's moves to assert its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea are expected to be discussed during a visit by Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop to Beijing on Wednesday.

In an interview Monday on Japanese TV, Ms Bishop said Australia called on all parties to cease construction work and militarisation of the islands.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei responded by saying Australia should adopt an "objective and unbiased attitude" toward South China Sea matters.

Press Association

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