A US think tank says satellite images show China has recently built new military facilities on artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said on Thursday that new images showed missile shelters and radar and communications facilities had been built on Yongshu Reef (known in the West as Fiery Cross), and two other reefs — Meiji (known as Mischief in the West) and Subi — in the Spratly Islands.
The think tank claimed that over the past three months, China had built four new missile shelters on Yongshu Reef to go with the eight already there.
The think tank said a very large antennae array was also being installed on Meiji Reef, a move that would presumably boost China’s ability to monitor surrounding areas.
A large dome was also installed on Yongshu and another was under construction, indicating a sizeable communications or radar system, the report said.
The AMTI said China was building two more domes on Meiji Reef. It said a smaller dome that had been installed near the missile shelters on Meiji indicated that “it could be connected to radars for any missile systems that might be housed there.”
“Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time,” the think tank said.
The South China Sea is the subject of a territorial dispute between China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.
China claims most of the strategic waterway and has been building artificial islands and installing military equipment on them, including on some reefs in the Spratly chain, which are also claimed by the Philippines.
The US has for long accused Beijing of undertaking what it calls a land reclamation program in the South China Sea for military purposes. It also routinely interferes in territorial disputes between China and the other claimants.
Washington also sends warships and aircraft to the area to challenge China’s sovereignty claims.
Chinese president inspects military parade in Hong Kong
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a visit to Hong Kong on Friday on the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to China.
Xi inspected the largest display of Chinese troops based in Hong Kong as he rode on an open-top jeep.
He inspected some 3,100 soldiers arranged in 20 formations, with armored personnel carriers, combat vehicles, helicopters, and other pieces of military hardware displayed behind them.
Xi called out “Salute all the comrades” and “Salute to your dedication” as he inspected the troops.
Hong Kong is governed under a “one country, two systems” rule since Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997. Under the law, it was granted the freedom to run most of its affairs, but Beijing is in charge of the city’s defense and foreign affairs.
Anti-China activists and politicians accuse Beijing of interfering in the city’s affairs and demand “full democracy.” China has, however, ruled out the idea of independence for Hong Kong, saying it “would lead nowhere.”