China building on new reef in South China Sea, think tank says

Warships and fighter jets of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea April 12, 2018. Picture taken April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has installed a new platform on a remote part of the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea which could be used for military purposes, according to recent satellite images reviewed by a US think tank.

The strategic waterway is claimed almost in its entirety by China, whose continued building of military and other installations on artificial islands and reefs there has unnerved the region and angered Washington.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said the images showed a “modest new structure” on Bombay Reef, topped by a radome and solar panels.

“The development is interesting given Bombay Reef’s strategic location, and the possibility that the structure’s rapid deployment could be repeated in other parts of the South China Sea,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday.

The purpose of the platform and radome was unclear, but it could be for military use, it said.

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“The reef is directly adjacent to the major shipping lanes that run between the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south, making it an attractive location for a sensor array to extend Chinese radar or signals intelligence collection over that important sea lane,” the group said.

China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China’s sovereignty over the Paracel Islands was not in dispute, and there is nothing wrong with China carrying out construction work on its own territory.

“As for the specific situation you mention, I have no understanding of it,” Geng told a daily news briefing.

Vietnam also claims the Paracels. Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

EMPHASIS ON CIVIL INFRASTRUCTURE

Separately, an influential state-run paper said on Wednesday that China should put more focus on building civilian facilities on islands in the South China Sea and less emphasis on the military to soothe regional fears about China’s intentions.

In a commentary, China’s Study Times said there was a “potential risk of war” for areas surrounding the country such as the South China Sea.

“Unprecedented outside military interference is the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” said the paper, published by the Central Party School which trains rising officials.

“Without the strong deterrence power of our military in the South China Sea, then protecting regional peace and stability is merely idle theorizing and falls short of what we would wish.”

But there must be a greater role for non-military actors in the South China Sea, it added.

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