China has removed its new generation surface-to-air missiles from a disputed island in the South China Sea after US withdrew its aircraft carrier ahead of a landmark verdict by an UN-backed tribunal, a media report said on Saturday.
The images from Airbus Defence and Space showed a battery of HQ-9 missiles was removed from Woody Island before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted IHS Janes Defence magazine as reporting citing satellite images.
The HQ-9s have a range of 200 km and can intercept aircraft and incoming missiles.
The report said the missiles, which have been on Woody Island, the largest in the disputed Parcel Islands claimed by China and Vietnam in the South China Sea were probably shipped back to the mainland for maintenance by a Type 072A landing ship docked in the island’s harbour.
The Post quoted Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie as saying the possible removal of the HQ-9s could be a response to the Pentagon’s decision to withdraw its USS John C Stennis carrier from the South China Sea on July 5, showing both Beijing and Washington were keen to reduce the risk of military confrontation.
“The Chinese military needed to show a friendly gesture after the Pentagon withdrew the USS John Stennis to Hawaii,” Li said.
“Some proper efforts to disarm will help decrease regional tension. We can see progress in Sino-US high-level military-to-military exchanges, with the US sending their naval operations chief Admiral John Richardson to meet Chinese navy commander Admiral Wu Shengli in the aftermath of the rulings,” Li said.
Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said the HQ-9 system may have been due for extensive maintenance after deployment in at least two rounds of naval drills in the last few months in the Paracels.
The removal of the missiles coincided with week-long Chinese naval drills in the Paracels, which ended on July 11.
CCTV footage showed the HQ-9 system launching missiles from a frigate, the Post report said.