18 Feb 2016

China sets up missile system on contested South China Sea island - officials

9:24 am on 18 February 2016

China has responded to reports that it has deployed surface-to-air missiles to a disputed island in the South China sea saying they are "hype" but it has a right to build self defence facilities.

Taiwan and US officials said China had deployed an advanced missile system on Woody or Yongxing Island in the Paracels.

Part of the city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody Island, in the disputed Paracel chain. (File, 2012)

Yongxing/ Woody Island in the disputed Paracel chain has been under China's control for more than 40 years. Photo: AFP

Satellite images taken on 14 February appear to show two batteries of eight missile launchers and a radar system on the island.

It has been Chinese control for more than 40 years but is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

China's foreign minister said reports by "certain Western media" should focus more on China's building of lighthouses to improve shipping safety in the region.

"As for the limited and necessary self-defence facilities that China has built on islands and reefs we have people stationed on, this is consistent with the right to self-protection that China is entitled to under international law so there should be no question about it," Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.

The Chinese defence ministry told Reuters in a statement that defence facilities on "relevant islands and reefs" had been in place for many years, adding that the latest reports about missile deployment were nothing but "hype".

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States expected to have "very serious" talks with China about militarisation of the South China Sea.

"There is every evidence, every day that there has been an increase of militarisation of one kind or another," Mr Kerry said. "It's of serious concern."

What is the South China Sea dispute?

Rival countries have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but tension has steadily increased in recent years.

Its islets and waters are claimed in part or in whole by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

China has backed its expansive claims with island-building and naval patrols, while the US says it opposes restrictions on freedom of navigation and unlawful sovereignty claims - by all sides, but seen by many as aimed at China.

The frictions have sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with global consequences.

Although largely uninhabited, the Paracels and the Spratlys may have reserves of natural resources around them. There has been little detailed exploration of the area, so estimates are largely extrapolated from the mineral wealth of neighbouring areas.

The sea is also a major shipping route and home to fishing grounds that supply the livelihoods of people across the region.

- BBC / Reuters