South China Sea: US commander says China has completely militarized at least three artificial islands

Chinese military base and radar dome tower south of Subi Reef

China has completed the militarization of at least three artificial islands in the South China Sea (Vietnam calls it the East Sea), according to information provided by the United States.

In an exclusive report by the AP news agency published on March 21, the US military’s Indo-Pacific commander, Admiral John C. Aquilino, said that the Chinese side has equipped state-of-the-art weapons systems in artificial islands it has built up in the South China Sea.

These weapons systems include anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, laser and signal jamming systems, and even fighter aircraft.

This move is considered aggressive and is intended to threaten the activities of surrounding countries.

The above report also revealed that the US side continues to carry out reconnaissance flights by P-8A Poseidon aircraft in the East Sea area to monitor the activities of the Chinese side.

Although the US side did not specify three artificial islands that China has completely militarized, according to Professor Carlyle Thayer from the University of New South Wales, Australia, those three artificial islands could be Subi rocks, rocks Fiery Cross, and Mischief Reef, are both in the Truong Sa (Spratlys), which are disputed between China and its neighbors including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

In all three of these artificial islands, China has built a 3 km long runway, enough to receive all types of aircraft currently in the service of the Chinese military.

Answering a question about the role of these military bases for China and the threat they pose to Vietnam, Professor Carlyle Thayer said:

They give China maritime range awareness, which means nothing that goes over this sea, flies over this airspace, or even goes under the water in this sea can escape being surveillance by China, and will be targeted by China.

It also means that Vietnamese military aircraft will be able to be shot down in the event of a conflict.”

Professor Carlyle Thayer also said that with existing bases, especially those with long runways, China can deploy fighter aircraft and implement the establishment of an air defense identification area if it wants.

The information that China militarizes the artificial islands it has reclaimed in the South China Sea is not new, the international media has reported on this issue over the years, the question is why at this time the Chinese side?

The problem lies in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, according to Professor Thayer:

I think that because there is a war between Russia and Ukraine right now, where modern missile systems are being used by Russia to hit targets in Ukraine, that draws attention to the missile arsenal that China owns. This may also be a guise of the United States to prevent China from transferring weapons to Russia, and denouncing China’s deployment in the South China Sea.”

China’s militarization of features in the South China Sea is said to have violated the Declaration of Conduct in the East Sea (DOC), which China and several ASEAN countries signed together in 2002.

This, according to Professor Carlyle Thayer, will cause countries in the region to lose trust in China, in the context of the parties’ efforts to negotiate the development of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

Translated by from RFA: