President Obama defended U.S. naval and aircraft operations near disputed South China Sea islands claimed by China on Tuesday as new intelligence revealed Beijing recently placed advanced air defense missiles in the Paracels.
“Freedom of navigation must be upheld,” Obama said, adding “the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same.”
At the Pentagon, defense officials said recent intelligence revealed that China deployed advanced HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, in the Paracel island chain in the northwestern part of the sea.
The missile deployment was detected in the past several days, said officials familiar with reports of the deployment.
The buildup of air defense missiles highlights what defense officials said is China’s continuing militarization of disputed islands in the sea.
China has demanded a halt to all U.S. warship transits through the sea, and aerial reconnaissance flights over it.
The HQ-9 is an advanced anti-aircraft system that can also shoot down short-range missiles.
The missiles are likely to heighten tensions as they could be used against U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that frequently fly over the sea.
Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence chief, said the HQ-9 is a formidable air defense missile that can cover 125 miles.
“We should not be surprised in the least about this turn of events, as it is in keeping with the strategic trend line of China’s ‘maritime sovereignty campaign’ that has been in place since 2010,” Fanell told the Washington Free Beacon.
Rick Fisher, a China military affairs analyst, said the advanced missile deployment is a major military escalation by China in the South China Sea.
“China’s deployment of up to 64 HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island just before the ASEAN summit in California constitutes a major slap against ASEAN and the Obama administration,” said Fisher, who is associated with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“It should now be clear that Obama administration diplomacy and freedom of navigation operations are useless in stopping China from militarizing its islands in the Paracel and Spratly island groups,” he said.
Fisher said China could supplement the HQ-9s with long-range YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missiles or DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles, which have a range of 870 miles.
“Nobody is suggesting that the U.S. attack China’s dangerous island bases, but the administration can deploy sufficient counterforce to deter China from using its bases,” Fisher said.
Full article: China Puts Advanced Missiles on Disputed Southeast Asian Island (Washington Free Beacon)