China has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, officials in the US and Taiwan said.
Taiwan defence ministry spokesman Major General David Lo told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain, which is under Chinese control but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
“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.
A US military official also confirmed the “apparent deployment” of the missiles, first reported by Fox News.
Images from civilian satellite company ImageSat International show two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system, according to Fox.
News of the missile deployment came as Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations wrapped up a summit in California, where they discussed the need to ease tensions in the region but did not include specific mention of China’s pursuit of its claims in the South China Sea.
Al Jazeera’s Marga Ortigas, reporting from the meeting in Rancho Mirage, said the move marked the first time China had taken such strong military measures in the disputed waters and the deployment would not go unnoticed by the US .
“President Obama did say the United States was duty bound to keep the region stable by ensuring freedom of navigation, which meant they would continue with military patrols and flybys.
“Something like this by China will definitely be seen as a provocative move not just by the United States but all the countries in the region.”
Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including small islands that are hundreds of kilometres from its southern coast.
Four countries in South-East Asia have unresolved territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, which has important shipping lanes and potential oil and other natural resources.
In January, a US warship sailed into the area of sea containing the Paracel Islands group.[Source: Al-Jazeera]