China appears to be building military-grade radar facilities on some of the home-made islands it constructed in the South China Sea.
Satellite images show high frequency radar, communication towers and observation posts being developed on Cuarteron Reef, the southern of a chain of seven disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The images were released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) which says the radars ‘speak to a long-term anti-access strategy by China—one that would see it establish effective control over the sea and airspace throughout the South China Sea’.
CSIS highlighted what look like two radar towers, a bunker and a lighthouse in the north of the 200,000 sq m island; several 20m radar poles and communications equipment in the south; a quay with loading crane in the west and a helipad in the island’s centre.
The Spratly Islands are also claimed by Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam
The report also cited satellite images taken between late January and mid-February of this year that appear to show radar towers on four artificial islands in the Spratlys.
The report comes after allegations that China deployed surface-to-air missiles on another disputed island in the South China Sea.
Taiwan’s defence ministry confirmed the existence of the facility after reports that missile launchers could be seen on the images on Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain.
A U.S. defence official also confirmed the ‘apparent deployment’ of the missiles, believed to have arrived in the past week.
China has controlled all of the Paracels, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, since the mid-1970s and the end of the Vietnam War.
But tensions in the sea – through which one-third of the world’s oil passes – have mounted in recent months after China transformed contested reefs in the Spratly islands further south into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.
Washington says the move threatens free passage in a strategically vital area and has sent warships close to the disputed islands to assert freedom of navigation, raising fears of escalation.
Australian military aircraft also regularly overfly the area.