News / Asia

    Kerry Slams China for South China Sea 'Militarization'

    A satellite view of the recent build up on Woody Island.
    A satellite view of the recent build up on Woody Island.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has criticized China and said there should be "no militarization" of the South China Sea, following news that Beijing has deployed surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island it controls in the strategic waterway.

    "We have said repeatedly with respect to China that the standard that should be applied to all countries with respect to the South China Sea is no militarization," Kerry said Wednesday. He specifically noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed not to militarize the sea when he visited Washington last year and met with President Barack Obama.

    "But there is every evidence, every day that there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another. It is of serious concern," Kerry said. "We have had these conversations with the Chinese and I am confident that over the next days we will have a further very serious conversation on this."

    WATCH: US Secretary of State John Kerry on China's latest move

    Kerry Slams China on Militarization of South Sea Islandi
    X
    February 17, 2016 5:32 PM
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticized China Wednesday, over its militarization of an island in a disputed region of the South China Sea.

    At the Pentagon, U.S. officials told VOA the Chinese missile deployment is a "complicating aspect" of the territorial disputes involving several countries that border the South China Sea. The U.S. is watching the situation closely, the source added.

    Another American official told VOA the Chinese missiles are part of an HQ-9 air defense system, which has an operating range of 200 kilometers (125 miles).

    The Chinese missiles' arrival on Woody Island, one of the tiny islands in the area that China has greatly enlarged through dredging and construction work, was first reported by American broadcaster Fox News, based on satellite images provided by a civilian company. The images appear to show two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers and a radar system.

    VOA's Pentagon correspondent was told "there is no reason to doubt the imagery."

    Woody Island, in the Paracel Island chain
    Woody Island, in the Paracel Island chain

    The missile issue erupted as Obama wrapped up a landmark summit with Southeast Asian leaders in California.

    Obama urged all parties to exercise restraint in the region and halt the militarization of disputed maritime areas.

    US and Taiwan confirm

    A U.S. defense official later confirmed the deployment, as did Taiwan’s Defense Ministry spokesman Major General David Lo. 

    "Interested parties should work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region and refrain from taking any unilateral measures that would increase tensions," Lo said on Wednesday. 

    Woody Island (or Yongxing Island as it is known in Chinese and Phu Lam in Vietnamese) is the largest of the Paracel Islands and is located in the northernmost part of the South China Sea, east of the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang. Woody Island has been under China’s control since 1956, and is a prefecture level city of the southern Chinese province of Hainan. 

    The island is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. 

    Chinese reaction 

    China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Wednesday that Western media should pay more attention to the lighthouses and meteorological facilities China is building in the South China Sea.  

    During a press conference following a meeting with his visiting Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, he did not deny reports about the missile deployments, but called them “an attempt by certain western media to create news stories.” 

    Wang did note what he called China’s right to limited and necessary self-defense facilities on its islands and reefs. 

    "This is consistent to self-preservation and self-protection that China is entitled to under international law. So there should be no question about that," Wang said. 

    Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for photographers as she arrives for a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.
    Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for photographers as she arrives for a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.

    Chinese claims 

    China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea and massive reclamation of formations further south has been a growing source of concern among its neighbors in the region, even as Beijing works feverishly to expand trade ties. In recent years, China has beefed up efforts to build runways and artificial islands to bolster its territorial claims. 

    Beijing has repeatedly said that it does not seek to militarize the South China Sea, but it has increasingly voiced concerns about U.S. freedom of navigation missions in the region, at sea and in the air. 

    What the missile deployment may mean 

    Alexander Huang, an assistant professor at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said the deployment was sending a telling, albeit contradictory signal about China’s future intentions in the South China Sea. 

    Huang said the development sends a contradictory signal because China has repeatedly said that it would not militarize the disputed islands. Adding that while the dispute over Woody Island is largely between China and Vietnam and does not necessarily involve the United States, it “may serve as a prelude or indicator for the future militarization of the Spratlys.” 

    “China is under tremendous pressure right now with the conference in Sunnylands and the U.S.-[South] Korean discussion over the THAAD deployment,” he added. 

    US-ASEAN summit 

    As President Barack Obama wrapped up a two-day summit with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the first on U.S. soil, he said the two affirmed during their meeting their “strong commitment to a regional order where international rules and norms – and the rights of all nations, large and small – are upheld.”

    He also said that during the meeting, the US and ASEAN leaders “discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas.” 

    Still, how the United States and ASEAN countries may respond is unclear. While ASEAN countries may genuinely want closer ties with the United States, they are also heavily and increasingly reliant on booming trade with China. 

    And if the United States wishes to respond, the tougher question is what could Washington do to get China to change its behavior. 

    Freedom of navigation  

    Freedom of navigation actions by the U.S. Navy have not made Beijing to change its behavior, noted Ross Darrell Feingold, a Taipei-based senior advisor at DC International Advisory, a political risk consultancy. 

    Perhaps more important is what the action says about China’s ability to manage significant issues simultaneously, Feingold added. 

    “There is the aftermath of the North Korea missile test and nuclear test, the ASEAN Summit, significant political change in Taiwan, ongoing domestic challenges – economy, corruption investigations –yet the Chinese leadership remains confident it can, at the same time, manage the international reaction to its missile deployment,” he said.

    State Department correspondents Pamela Dockins and Nike Ching and VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    February 18, 2016 2:57 PM
    What do you suppose would be China's reactions if the US bombed all of these fake islands flat? Do you think they'd impose a trade embargo on the US? I don't think they'd do anything. But we won't find out because our Surrenderer-in-Chief doesn't have the spine to even consider it.

    Were I president I'd fly planes over the one with missiles on it day and night until they launched one at one of our planes. That would be pretext enough to put and end to their game once and for all. A US trade embargo, even a temporary one would send their economy crashing back into the dust we built it out of.

    by: Leopoldo Alvarez
    February 17, 2016 9:52 PM
    The ASEAN summit in the US is in the right direction... militarization by China of the disputed islands is patently wrong, to say the least... China must respect international laws governing these disputes over the islands... It cannot--and must not--go against world peace and world order to advance its own selfish interests and questionable benefits... there would be no peace with international bullying...

    China must show respect to its neighbors and to the world that it is interested in resolving the crisis... rather than complicating it... by not doing unilateral actions while the case is being arbitrated, internationally, to lessen tensions and promote peace and harmony...

    The positioning of arms and missiles into the disputed islands by China with continuing reclamations is a real cause for alarm... It doesn't serve any purpose other than to intimidate anyone and everyone...

    China has gone too far and it needs to be checked and seriously addressed...
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 18, 2016 2:07 AM
    Hey Leopoldo _ China would never have needed to build their little islands in the South China Sea with the early warning ADIZ radar and defensive surface to air missiles on them, [if only], the US hadn't pivoted military forces to Asia to encircle China and threaten them?

    Every action causes a reaction, and China's reaction to the US aggressive military buildup pivot to Asia, caused China to build up their early warning ADIZ radar, and early missile defense systems on the little islands to protect China? .. Think about it as smart defensive military strategy against a cunning possible enemy that would launch a preemptive strike against China? .. The greatest defense, is a defensive offense against enemies that would attack you? .. think about it?

    by: Bob from: USA
    February 17, 2016 3:37 PM
    This was so predictable once the Chinese started to create more land and install airfields and no one saw this coming.
    Allowing this nonsense immediately puts shipping at-risk in the South China Sea and the arbitrary imposition of air restrictions (now with Air Defense missile) shows nothing but a wanton disregard for international law. This figures too, given the Chinese disregard for religion and human rights, though they are signatories to the UN Charter guaranteeing these rights to their citizens.

    by: Anonymous
    February 17, 2016 1:27 PM
    It's going to be a war zone like mid-Asia.

    by: rachmanyd from: indonesia
    February 17, 2016 10:25 AM
    Sovereignty of the territory of a country requires the recognition of its neighbors and other countries who feel an interest in an area, The deployment of weapons in a disputed area is a serious trigger such conflict.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 17, 2016 11:34 AM
    Hey rachmanyd _ The Chinese deployment of defensive ground to air defensive missiles on the Chinese little islands with the Chinese ADIZ radar, will be used to immediately defend the Chinese motherland from any identified unfriendly attacking missiles and warplanes? .. Like the grim reaper say's, "only those thinking of attacking the Chinese motherland need fear the missiles on the Chinese little islands." .. think about it?

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    February 17, 2016 10:04 AM
    The US must eventually challenge China's claims to this territory using whatever means and force it takes to deny it legitimacy. The longer it waits, the worse the consequences will be.

    Unfortunately our President is not capable of making the hard choices that could result in economic warfare with China and even military engagement. One reason may be that such a conflict would be bad for business and would hurt the friends and campaign donors who seem to have bought the government.

    This is what the current election campaign is about, whether the government will be run for the benefit of wealthy people whose interests are global or for the benefit of the American people whose interests are within the borders of the United States.

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    February 17, 2016 9:03 AM
    The UN must be able to make a ruling in these sovereignty issues. A contested island near the Philippines is 5 times as far from China as from the Philippines.
    In Response

    by: william li from: canada
    February 18, 2016 1:19 PM
    @HF really? then tell me how to explain British Virgin island? its right off Dominican republic's coast, right? French St martine, Guadeloup and many others are right off Dominican's coast. and so many Greek islands are right off Turkey's coast. This list can keep going on and on!!! Are you going to tell me these are ridiculous examples again?
    In Response

    by: HF from: USA
    February 17, 2016 5:18 PM
    William Li, Guam is not right off of the Japanese coast, or any other coast for that matter. Guam is approximately 2548 km from Kyushu, Japan. Some of the islands (i.e. Scarborough Shoal) China claims are about 160 km from the Philippine coast, and within its EEZ. On the other hand the same islands are 1000 km from the Chinese coast. That's a huge difference compared to the ridiculous examples you bring up.
    In Response

    by: william li from: canada
    February 17, 2016 2:25 PM
    Guam is how many times as far from US as from Japan? how far is Falkland from British than from Argentina? What about British Virgin island? French polynesia islands? Do you need more evidences? the list can keep going on and on!

    by: Ricardo from: Brazil
    February 17, 2016 7:37 AM
    Full democracy is the greatest gift of the United States. However, in times of conflict or war it prevents the U.S. has a rapid response to external threats.

    What China is doing is simple. It is causing problems in different areas, about the United States being forced to accept several of their demands.

    In times of war or political / economic uncertainty, an authoritative and organized country takes advantage. Another factor that favors China is that their president has a majority in parliament and he approves easily and quickly all measures he want.

    Unfortunately, there is not much that President Obama can do. The US Senate is more interested in weakening his government than to help building a better country. This is the weakness of the democracy.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 17, 2016 9:50 AM
    A Wise Man say's that people should ignore the US and news media propaganda, because China has already extended their defensive ADIZ out past their little islands, and no matter how many times the US sails or flies near the Chinese little islands and if they identify themselves or not, the Chinese will have already identified them as a friendly or unfriendly targets that would be a danger to China?

    The US loudmouth propaganda and sabre rattling won't change China's mind, because the Chinese must extend their ADIZ out past their little island for the defense of the Chinese motherland, to counter the US pivot to Asia to encircle China? .. China's extended their ADIZ out past their little islands as a response to the US aggressive military moves against China in Asia? .. and no matter what hogwash the US propagandists shout, it's the Chinese ADIZ that the US wants removed from their little islands?

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