China dispatched fighter jets to a disputed island in the South China Sea on Tuesday, soon after foreign minister Wang Yi met US secretary of state John Kerry in Washington to discuss, among other issues, the tense situation in the region.
US media reports from Washington said the aircraft were deployed on Woody Island – known in China as Yongxing Island and said to be the largest in the region – that is part of the Paracel or Xisha chain in the South China Sea.
China controls the islands but Taiwan and Vietnam have claimed them.
“The specifics of a recent deployment of fighter aircraft to Woody Island would be less an issue than the signal it sends of how far out of step China’s actions are with the aspirations of the region,” said a Pentagon statement.
Taiwan’s defence ministry too confirmed the deployment of the jets, which came days after China set up a battery of surface-to-air missiles on the same island, triggering accusation of militarising the region.
China is embroiled in disputes in the South China Sea with other countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei.
China’s response to the latest reports was on the same lines as its earlier stand. The Xisha islands are undisputed Chinese territory and thus deployment of any kind by China is justified and beyond reproach, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday.
Without directly confirming or denying the reports about the combat jets, spokesperson Hua Chunying told a news briefing that “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Xisha islands”.
“I would advise the media to not selectively exaggerate or ignore issues, as this will not help your audience understand the bigger picture,” she said.
Hua asked foreign media to take note of the deployment of radars and advanced weapons by other countries on China’s islands in the South China Sea, and make objective, fair and calm reports.
“In the lead-up to Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s visit to the US, some US media organisations played up China’s deployment of a surface-to-air missile system on Yongxing Island, depicting the move as escalating tension in the South China Sea,” said an opinion piece by official news agency Xinhua on Wednesday.
“And right after Wang’s joint press conference with his US counterpart John Kerry on Tuesday, Fox News reported that the US intelligence had seen activities of fighter jets on the same island.
“The hype about so-called militarisation of the South China Sea by China may sound alarming since those reports often cite hawkish military officials, but it fails to give due attention to the fact that deployment of defence measures has been going on for decades on the island, home to the municipal government of China’s southernmost city of Sansha.”
Xinhua contended the US was the “troublemaker” in the region. “Washington, which presents itself as an upholder of justice in the South China Sea issue, as in other issues across the world, has in the past few months wrongly accused China of being the sole troublemaker in the region, while conniving at China’s rival claimants in the South China Sea territorial disputes to take bolder moves.”