China Builds Long-Range Radars in S. China Sea

Radome
File image courtesy 木林森

By Reuters 2016-02-24 20:57:14

Recent satellite images show China may be installing a high-frequency radar system in the Spratly Islands that could significantly boost its ability control the disputed South China Sea, a U.S. think tank reported on Monday.

The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies said the images showed that construction of facilities at Cuarteron Reef appeared nearly complete and that the artificial island now covered an area of about 52 acres (210,500 square meters).

"Two probable radar towers have been built on the northern portion of the feature, and a number of 65-foot poles have been erected across a large section of the southern portion," the report said.

"These poles could be a high-frequency radar installation, which would significantly bolster China's ability to monitor surface . . . traffic across the southern portion of the South China Sea."

The report said the images showed that China appeared to have constructed a buried bunker and lighthouse on the northern portion of the feature, a helipad, communications equipment and a quay with a loading crane.

The report, which based its analysis on satellite images from January and February, said China already had significant radar coverage of the northern part of the South China Sea given its mainland installations and in the Paracel Islands to the northwest of the Spratlys.

A high frequency radar on Cuarteron Reef would increase China's ability to monitor sea and air traffic coming north from the Malacca Straits and other important channels, the report said.

It also pointed to "probable" radars at Gaven, Hughes and Johnson South Reefs in the Spratlys as well as helipads, and to possible gun emplacements at the former two features.

China previously operated radars on Fiery Cross but the latest installations would give it far more extensive coverage, regional military analysts said.

On Wednesday, China complained the media were ignoring radars and weapons deployed by other claimants in the South China Sea, and unfairly targeting China, following reports of its deployment of fighter jets and radars in the disputed waterway.

Over the past week or so China has been reported to have deployed advanced missiles, fighters and radar equipment on islands in the South China Sea, especially on Woody Island in the Paracels.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated that as far as China was concerned, there was no dispute over ownership of the Paracels, and so China could deploy what it wanted on its territory without reproach.

"I suggest to the media that, in your reports, you not selectively pump up or ignore things," Hua told a daily news briefing on Wednesday.

"Because when you pay attention to what China is deploying, do you also pay attention to other countries which have over the years, on Chinese islands they have occupied, deployed many radars and advanced weaponry? I hope friends in the media can objectively, justly, rationally and calmly make their reports."

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

The comments, which come as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits the United States, follow remarks on Tuesday by Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, that China was "clearly militarizing" the South China Sea.

Harris said he believed China's deployment of surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, new radars on Cuarteron Reef in the Spratlys and its building of airstrips were "actions that are changing, in my opinion, the operational landscape in the South China Sea". Separately, he told a congressional committee on Wednesday that the Navy will carry out more freedom of navigation operations with more complexity in the South China Sea, in addition to the destroyer transits through Chinese-claimed waters in recent months.

U.S. government sources also confirmed this week that China recently deployed fighter jets to Woody Island. It was not the first time China sent jets there but the move raised new questions about its intentions.

China's official Xinhua news agency, in an English language commentary, said the "hype" about China's "so-called militarization" failed to mention that China had for many years deployed defensive measures on Woody Island.

"For the South China Sea waters to be calm, Washington should first stop its ugly practice of smearing China and avoid any move that stirs up tension in the region," it said.