DESPITE previous commitments not to militarize the seven artificial islands in the South China Sea (SCS), China has converted them into military bases, equipped with advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, long-range surface-to-air missile, and J-20 stealth fighter jets, a US defense official said.
This information is scheduled to be shared by Lindsey Ford, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia of the Department of Defense, during the hearing of a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C., on Thursday 2 p.m. (Friday 2 a.m. Philippine time).
“Over the past decade, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has added more than 3,200 acres of land to its seven occupied outposts in the Spratly Islands, which now feature airfields, berthing areas, and resupply facilities to support persistent PRC military and paramilitary presence in the region. Since early 2018, we have seen the PRC steadily equip its Spratly Island outposts—including Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, and Fiery Cross—with an increasing array of military capabilities, including advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, long-range surface-to-air missile systems, J-20 stealth fighter jets, laser and jamming equipment, and military radar and signals intelligence capabilities,” Ford said.
J-20 is China’s most advanced stealth fighter jet, rivaling the F-22 and F-35 jets of the US and Su-57 of Russia. Chinese Air Force claims that radars cannot detect J-20’s stealth.
The US defense official said the expanded artificial islands support the operations of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) vessels, People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) deployments, and China Coast Guard (CCG) in the South China including “routine harassment” of vessels and maritime assets of the Southeast Asian countries patrolling the area.
“We’ve witnessed a sharp uptick in coercive and risky operational behavior by the PRC, threatening the safety not only of US forces, but of allied and partner forces operating in the South China Sea,” Ford’s text of the opening remarks said.
She cited the cases when China has conducted risky behavior in the recent years:
- Sinking of Vietnamese fishing vessels
- Harassment of Malaysian offshore energy exploration
- Cutting across the nose of Australia’s P-8 fighter jets conducting freedom of navigation patrols
- Flying within 20 ft of US aircraft
- Deployment of water cannons and military-grade lasers to block and target Philippine supply boats heading towards the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
“These are not isolated incidents. These actions demonstrate a pattern of increasingly risky and coercive behavior, a manifestation of the PRC’s growing willingness to use its military instrument of power to achieve its foreign policy objectives,” she added.
Aside from Ford, other officials who were invited to attend hearing of the US House foreign affairs subcommittee on Indo-Pacific are Vice Admiral Andrew Tiongson, Commander of the US Coast Guard Pacific Area, and Dr. Jung Pak, Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Affairs of the US State Department.
California Rep. Young Kim chairs the Indo-Pacific subcommittee hearing. She was led the US congressional delegation who went to Manila and consulted Philippine officials on the South China Sea last month.
Image credits: N509FZ • CC BY-SA 4.0