For years, the US and China have contested the South China Sea as Washington attempts to thwart Beijing’s growing control in the region. The increasing patrols in the region have led to fears of an accidental collision and subsequent skirmishes. But the main source of fear has been the Chinese military’s island bases, which boast runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multistorey buildings that China has built on reefs. Euronews reported on one island in 2016, highlighting the sophisticated military operations beginning to take shape in the South China Sea.
Beijing deployed a surface to air missile system on an island in the region at the time, but the Chinese government dismissed the claims as “Western media trying to create stories.”
However, recent evidence has laid bare the extent of China’s missile arsenal, and the threat it could pose in the region.
In August last year, Chinese forces launched four missiles into the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The Pentagon issued a statement of concern following the incident, saying China’s actions “stand in contrast to its pledge to not militarize the South China Sea and are in contrast to the United States’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms.”
The statement continued: “The PRC [People’s Republic of China] chose to escalate its exercise activities by firing ballistic missiles.
“We urge all parties to exercise restraint and not undertake military activities that could threaten freedom of navigation and aggravate disputes in the South China Sea.”
But the Chinese government hit back, as Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian accused the US of “provoking tensions and undermine China’s sovereignty and security.”
He added that diplomatic relations between the two countries had been ”severely damaged.”
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He said: “There could be a misunderstanding, there could be an instance where it escalates.
“At the moment dialogue between the US and China military to military is poor, some people say that it’s worse than between the USSR and the US during the Cold War.
“There was a lot more contact then than there is now with China, therefore misunderstandings are horribly, horribly possible.”