China has moved weaponry onto artificial islands that it is building in contested areas of the South China Sea, adding to the risks of a confrontation with the United States and its regional security partners including Australia.
Australian officials are concerned that China could also introduce long-range radar, anti-aircraft guns and regular surveillance flights that will enable it to project military power across a maritime expanse which include some of Australia’s busiest trading lanes.
More substantially, Australia’s intelligence agencies are upgrading the strategic threat assessments which will inform the Abbott government’s first Defence White Paper, according to government sources. Late on Wednesday, Australia’s top defence official, Dennis Richardson, brought Canberra’s growing concerns into public view by telling a Sydney forum that China’s “unprecedented” land reclamations raise questions of “intent” and risks of “miscalculation”.
“It is legitimate to ask the purpose of the land reclamation – tourism appears unlikely,” said Mr Richardson, delivering the annual Blamey Oration at the New South Wales state Parliament.
“Given the size and modernisation of China’s military, the use by China of land reclamation for military purposes would be of particular concern,” he said.
The Defence Secretary’s comments were the most detailed and forthright from a senior Australian official since China began building its audacious network of airstrips, deep-water ports and other military-capable infrastructure on previously submerged reefs in the Spratly Islands last year.
China says the new sand islands will be used for humanitarian, environmental, fishing and other internationally-minded purposes.
But it warned this week in its own Defence White Paper that it would gradually expand “offshore waters defence” to include “open seas protection”, adding that it would not tolerate other countries “meddling”.
Full article: China puts weapons on its new artificial islands (Sydney Morning Herald)