Two Shaanxi Y-8 military transport and reconnaissance planes on Woody Island, November 15, 2017.
CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe
US senators call for action on China's militarization
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( - May 28, 2018 - 3:15pm

MANILA, Philippines — Three American senators called on the United States government to respond to China's deployment of advanced weapon systems on its outposts in the disputed South China Sea.

In a letter addressed to US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) expressed concern over China's militarization of the contested waterway.

The letter, dated May 25, came days after the Chinese Air Force announced that it has landed nuclear-capable H-6K bombers on Woody Island, Beijing's largest outpost on the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

The senators also noted Beijing's reported installment of anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on its "big three" islands in the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

"By placing weapons on these artificial islands—Fiery Cross, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef—China has increased the risk of conflict between itself and the five other claimants in the Spratlys. China’s People’s Liberation Army’s deployment of these weapons systems allows it to project power well into the Pacific Ocean," the letter read.

The American lawmakers warned that China's deployment of missiles in the Spratlys are "not solely for defense."

"Increasing its offensive firepower in the South China Sea gives the Chinese government an additional element of coercion in its disputes with its neighbors, including our allies in the Philippines and our partners in Vietnam and Indonesia," they said.

In response to China's recent deployment of an aircraft bomber in the Paracels, the Pentagon withdrew its invitation to China participate in the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercises, the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise.

Rubio, Gardner and Markey lauded the US Department of Defense to retract invitations for the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy to participate in the multilateral naval exercise.

The three US senators urged the Pentagon to respond to the possible operational impact of China's deployments to freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

The Pentagon was also urged to "explore the creation of a Joint Maritime Task Force-Pacific, led by the US Navy, to operate through a persistent deployment of surface ships from a group of allies and partners in the broader Indo-Pacific region who are committed to protecting a free and open South China Sea maritime environment.

Meanwhile, the senators asked the US State Department to reiterate the July 12, 2016 arbitral ruling, which invalidated China's claims over the South China Sea. The landmark ruling pointed out that China violated international law in constructing artificial islands within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

The US State Department was also requested to work with the Defense Department in pursuing a trilateral memorandum of understanding with Japan and Australia to coordinate maritime security assistance.

Chinese President Xi Jinping clearly reneged on his promise not to pursue militarization on the Spratly Islands, the US senators said.

"The Department of Defense notes China has reclaimed over 3,200 acres of artificial features in the South China Sea since 2013, and in recent years has built facilities with potential military uses on these islands, including airstrips, hangars, harbors, anti-aircraft batteries, radars, and structures that could house surface-to-air missiles," the senators said.

Meanwhile, China has protested Washington's freedom of navigation operation after two US Navy warships sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands.

The Chinese Ministry of Defense confirmed that Beijing deployed warships to identify and ward off USS Antietam and USS Higgins for allegedly violating China's sovereignty.

"The Chinese army is determined to strengthen the preparations for sea and air combat readiness, raise the level of defense, defend national sovereignty and security, and maintain the determination of regional peace and stability," Chinese Ministry of Defense Wu Qian said.

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