China has deployed a defensive missile system on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese foreign ministry has confirmed.
The installation of anti-ship cruise missiles and surface to air missile systems on three islands west of the Philippines was first reported by American television network CNBC this week, quoting unnamed sources.
The reports have prompted Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to warn any military build-up would run counter to China’s commitments.
“If the media reports are accurate, then the Australian government would be concerned because this would be contrary to China’s stated aspiration that it would not militarise these features,” Ms Bishop said.
“China of course has a unique responsibility as a permanent member of the [United Nations] Security Council to uphold peace and security around the world and any action to militarise unilaterally features in the South China Sea would go against that responsibility in that role.”
Asked about the media reports, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “The relevant deployment targets no one. Anyone with no invasive intention will find no reason to worry about this.”
“We hope that the relevant party could view this matter in an objective and calm way.”
The US is prepared to act against China’s stationing of military equipment on disputed islands in the South China Sea, says White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee-Sanders.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said overnight that the Trump administration had raised concerns with the Chinese, and there would be “consequences”.
Ms Hua said China’s activity on the islands, which China calls Nansha, was “peaceful construction activities … including the deployment of necessary national defense facilities, are meant to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security, which is also the rights a sovereign state is entitled to.”
CNBC said the missile systems were deployed on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mishief Reef. Six countries have competing claims over the islands.
ASEAN last week repeated its statement of concern about militarisation of islands in the South China Sea.
By Kirsty Needham
with Fergus Hunter