China has defended its right to deploy defence facilities within its sovereign territory a day after it emerged that Beijing had stationed surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island in the South China Sea.
Taiwan’s defence ministry and a US defence official have confirmed the deployment of missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel chain (the island is known as Yongxing and the chain as Xisha in China), adding to tensions in the South China Sea.
“The Xisha Islands are the inherent territory of China. China has justified and legal rights to implement defense facilities on its territory to protect national sovereignty and security,” the defence ministry’s information office said in a statement to state-controlled China Daily.
“China started deploying maritime and air defense on relevant islands years ago. The hyping by certain Western media is a pure repeat of the ‘China threat’ theory,” the statement said.
Though Woody Island has been in China’s control for decades, it is claimed by Taiwan. Besides Taiwan, China has disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia over several islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims the largest chunk of the region and has staunchly defended its increasingly assertive presence in the area.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei on Thursday neither confirmed nor denied if missiles were deployed on Woody Island, and said the country has had defence facilities on islands for decades.
On Wednesday, foreign minister Wang Yi suggested the media should pay attention to the public service done by China in the South China Sea by building lighthouses and weather stations.
China’s construction of “limited, necessary facilities of self-protection” was “consistent with the right to self-preservation and self-protection that China is entitled to under international law, so there should be no question about that”, Wang was quoted him as saying by Reuters.
“Military implementation on islands is an act taken by countries around the globe, while China’s military implementation on the Xisha Islands started many years ago,” Yao Yunzhu, senior researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science, told China Daily.
Tension has simmered in the South China Sea for years now. In November 2013, tensions had escalated after China set up air defence identification zone, which meant foreign airlines flying over the zone had to submit flight plans to Chinese authorities.
Beijing’s announcement immediately triggered protests from the US, Japan and South Korea and military aircraft from these countries had breached the zone soon after.