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US Think Tank says Military is Being Beefed up by China on Disputed Islands in South China Sea

US Think Tank says Military is Being Beefed up by China on Disputed Islands in South China Sea
A U.S. think tank is of the opinion that in the disputed ­Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, China has upgraded its military ­infrastructure, suggests satellite images.
China now ­occupied 20 outposts in the ­Paracels, and that there had been an extensive military build-up on eight islands, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said on Wednesday.
"Three of these now have ­protected harbors capable of hosting large numbers of naval and civilian vessels. Four others boast smaller harbors, with a fifth under construction at Drummond Island," the group said on its website. "Five of the islands contain helipads, with Duncan Island housing a full helicopter base. And the largest of the Paracels, Woody Island, sports an airstrip, hangars and a [detachment] of HQ-9 surface-to-air missile batteries."
The presence of China could be consolidated and its projection of power in the region can be bolstered by further expansion, the group said.
"Not all of China's outposts in the Paracels currently house significant infrastructure, and many contain no more than one or two buildings … but the presence of small buildings and construction materials suggests China may be preparing to expand those features," the group said.
"This is part of China's broader efforts to consolidate its grip on adjacent waters and disputed islands," said Richard Heydarian, a political science professor at De La Salle University in Manila.
China would not militarise its man-made islands in the South China Sea, the country has previously repeatedly promised.
On seven of the artificial islands it had built in the region, Beijing had placed weaponry, the think tank had claimed in December.
At that time, China replied: "The necessary military facilities are mainly for self defense. When someone is flexing muscles at your doorstep, wouldn't you ­prepare a slingshot?"
Unease among its neighbors and the United States has been created by China's strengthening of its armed forces and increasingly ­assertive claims to most of the South China Sea.
One of the things triggering the actions of China is U.S. President Donald Trump's aggressive stance towards China, say Chinese analysts.
"That's how China reacts to the outside world. If Trump did not make irresponsible anti-China remarks, the militarization of artificial islands in South China Sea would be delayed," Zhou Chenming, from the think tank Knowfar Institute for Strategic and Defence Studies, said.
"The situation now is particularly tense, and there is plenty of scope for misunderstanding that could lead to a real flare-up," ­Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Institute at King's College in London, said.
"The bottom line is that China believes this area is its own backyard for it to do as it pleases, and the US and others fundamentally disagree," Brown said.
"It is hard to see an easy way of bridging the divide between these two positions."

Christopher J. Mitchell

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