U.S. Spots Chinese Arms on Disputed Isle ; Artillery Vehicles Add to Tensions Ahead of Talks on Regional Security

By Rosenberg, Matthew | International New York Times, May 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

U.S. Spots Chinese Arms on Disputed Isle ; Artillery Vehicles Add to Tensions Ahead of Talks on Regional Security


Rosenberg, Matthew, International New York Times


Mobile artillery vehicles were seen on an artificial island that China is building in the South China Sea.

The United States has spotted a pair of mobile artillery vehicles on an artificial island that China is building in the South China Sea, a resource-rich stretch of ocean crossed by vital shipping lanes, American officials said on Friday.

The construction program on previously uninhabited atolls and reefs in the Spratly Islands has already raised alarm and drawn protests from other countries in the region, whose claims to parts of the South China Sea overlap China's.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter called this past week for China to halt the construction, saying that international law did not recognize Chinese claims of sovereignty over the new territories and that American warships and military aircraft would continue to operate in the area.

The artillery was spotted by satellites and surveillance aircraft about a month ago, and the two vehicles have since been either hidden or removed, according to an American official who spoke about intelligence matters on the condition of anonymity. The official added that even if the weapons remain on the island, they pose no threat to American naval forces or aircraft in the region, though the guns could reach some nearby islands claimed by other countries.

With Mr. Carter in Singapore to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, a high-profile annual Asian security meeting that Chinese officials are also attending, American officials were reluctant to publicly discuss the intelligence they had collected about the artillery.

Brent Colburn, a spokesman traveling with Mr. Carter, would say only that the United States was aware of the weapons, whose detection was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized China's deployment of artillery on the island as "a disturbing development and escalatory development."

"Their actions are in violation of international law, and their actions are going to be condemned by everyone in the world," Mr. McCain was quoted by Reuters as saying in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he stopped on Friday on his way to Singapore for the security conference.

"We are not going to have a conflict with China," he said, "but we can take certain measures which will be a disincentive to China to continue these kinds of activities."

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials about the weapons.

A top Chinese military official, Adm. Sun Jianguo, is scheduled to speak at the conference in Singapore about Chinese military policies. Admiral Sun, the deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army, which includes the navy, will lead the strongest delegation of military officials that China has yet sent to the annual forum.

China released a military strategy document earlier this past week that, for the first time, called for its navy to project force beyond its coastal waters into the open oceans. Western officials said because of its timing, the document seemed intended as a challenge to other participants in the conference.

The heightened tensions between the United States and China over the South China Sea were on display last week when the United States sent a surveillance plane close to Fiery Cross Reef, which China has built into an island with a runway that military aircraft can use. The Chinese told the American plane to leave the area, according to a CNN television crew that was aboard the flight at the Pentagon's invitation. …

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