China confirms ‘deployment’ in Spratlys

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AN AERIAL photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, in this May 11, 2015 file photo. — REUTERS

By Camille A. Aguinaldo

CHINA on Thursday confirmed the “deployment of necessary national defense facilities” in the Spratly islands, but stopped short of calling these facilities missile systems as earlier reported.

In her press conference on Thursday, as posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Web site, spokesperson Hua Chunying said the construction activities in what she called the “Nansha islands” were “meant to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security.”

“The relevant deployment targets no one. Anyone with no invasive intention will find no reason to worry about this. We hope that the relevant party could view this matter in an objective and calm way,” she said.

Ms. Hua added that China would continue to cooperate with other countries in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea.

“I must stress that China is a big country in terms of trade, and also a staunch champion of regional peace and stability,” she said.

The United States for its part warned China of “consequences” to its “militarization” of the disputed South China Sea.

“We’re well aware of China’s militarization in the South China Sea. We’ve raised concerns directly with the Chinese about this. And there will be near-term or long-term consequences and we’ll certainly keep you up-to-date,” White House spokesperson Sarah H. Sanders said in her press briefing Thursday, Washington time, as posted on YouTube.

Media network CNBC earlier reported that China had “quietly installed” anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems in Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef (locally called Kagitingan Reef, Zamora Reef, Panganiban Reef, respectively), citing sources with direct access to US intelligence reports.

Chinese military bases were already constructed in the three features in the Spratlys despite a ruling from the United Nations’ Hague arbitral tribunal in the Philippines’ favor.

The report deployment of the weapons system follows after photographs showing two Chinese military transport planes landing on Mischief Reef.

Malacañang on Friday expressed concern over the deployment while Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano said they were still “verifying the information” even after the Chinese government has confirmed its deployment.

“The problem is it cannot be solved just by the Philippines and China because….it was not directed against us but of course our allies and friends are saying that when you have missiles there it can affect anyone,” Mr. Cayetano said.

For his part, US Ambassador Sung Y. Kim said on Thursday, “We are concerned. I think we are concerned any time a claimant including China takes aggressive unilateral actions towards militarization which is clear they seemed to have done.”

He said the presence of US ships in the region showed Washington’s commitment to protect the rights to freedom of navigation, overflight, and commerce.

“(These) are not only important rights for the United States, they are also important rights for everybody, including the Philippines, so we’ll continue to do whatever we can to protect those rights,” Mr. Kim said.