China, Beijing: A United States (US) think tank reported on Monday, satellite images show China may be installing a high-frequency radar system in the Spratly Islands that could significantly boost its ability control the disputed South China Sea. The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said the images showed that construction of facilities at Cuarteron Reef appeared nearly complete and that the artificial island now covered an area of about 52 acres.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. “Two probable radar towers have been built on the northern portion of the feature, and a number of 65-foot (20-meter) poles have been erected across a large section of the southern portion,” the report said. “These poles could be a high-frequency radar installation, which would significantly bolster China’s ability to monitor surface and air traffic across the southern portion of the South China Sea”.
China’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement on its microblog that the facilities China had established on the “relevant islands and reefs” included navigation and meteorological equipment. “At the same time, we have deployed necessary defensive facilities on the islands,” the statement added, adding the facilities were “legal and appropriate”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about the report, said she didn’t know any details, but that China had every right to build on its own territory and deploy “limited” defensive means there.
The world should pay more attention to the civilian facilities China has built like lighthouses, Hua told a daily news briefing. The report said the images showed that China appeared to have constructed a buried bunker and lighthouse on the northern portion of the feature, a helipad, communications equipment and a quay with a loading crane. The report, which based its analysis on satellite images from January and February, said China already had significant radar coverage of the northern part of the South China Sea given its mainland installations and in the Paracel Islands to the northwest of the Spratlys.