Washington-based thinktank says Beijing has installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems and guns on artificial reefs
China appears to have positioned significant weapons systems, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven of the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, despite vowing it had no intention of militarising the archipelago, a US thinktank has claimed.
During a state visit to the United States last year President Xi Jinping publicly stated that China did not intend to pursue militarisation of the strategic and resource-rich trade route through which about $4.5tn (3.4tn) in trade passes each year.
However, satellite images released on Wednesday by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies appeared to show Beijing was doing just that.
The Washington-based group said the images, which were taken last month, showed what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems (CIWS) installed on man-made islands in the South China Seas disputed Spratly archipelago, where Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have territorial claims.
In a report, Chinas new Spratly island defences, the AMTI said its analysts had identified what appeared to be defence fortifications on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs.
Anti-aircraft guns and what were likely to be CIWS to fend off cruise missile strikes appeared to have been built on two other reefs, Hughes and Gaven.
These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea, the AMTI said.
Among other things, they would be the last line of defence against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases.