According to the Pentagon, China has deployed “anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems, and electronic jammers” in a series of disputed islands in the South China Sea region that are claimed by Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam as well as China. China itself announced it also landed a bomber aircraft on a South China Sea Island.
Defense Department Spokesperson Marine Lt. Colonel Christopher Logan said in a statement the United States has “strong evidence” of China’s continued militarization of the disputed Spratly Islands region, including the anti-ship missiles and surface to air missile systems. “While China,” he noted, “has maintained that the construction of the islands is to ensure safety at sea, navigation assistance, search and rescue, fisheries protection and other non-military functions, the placement of these weapons systems is only for military use.”
Lt. Colonel Logan said that “China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilize the region. As an initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea, we have disinvited the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific [known as RIMPAC] Exercise.”This followed a warning from the White House in early May that there would be consequences if China’s militarization in the South China Sea continues.
RIMPAC is the world’s largest multinational maritime exercise, hosted every two years by the U.S. Pacific Command. The Navy has described its aim as helping participants “foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.” China has participated in RIMPAC in 2014 and 2016.
The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific, which includes freedom of navigation in the region. China’s militarization of the disputed islands contributes to elevated tension and instability.
“We have called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features,” Lt. Colonel Logan said. “We believe these recent deployments and the continued militarization of these features is a violation of the promise that [Chinese] President Xi made to the United States and the world not to militarize the Spratly Islands.”