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Pentagon confirms China put weapons on artificial island

In this screen capture from U.S. Navy-released video, sailors conduct flight operations aboard a Navy P-8A Poseidon over the South China Sea on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. During the flight, the crew of the Poseidon documented several warnings by the Chinese navy to leave the area.

SCREEN CAPTURE FROM U.S. NAVY-RELEASED VIDEO

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 29, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Friday confirmed that China has placed weapons on one of the  artificial islands it is building in the South China Sea, reinforcing concern that the Chinese may intend to use the land reclamation projects for military purposes.

Spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the United States identified the two artillery vehicles first spotted several weeks ago but could not say whether the weapons were still in place.

The move by China comes just as U.S. officials including Defense Secretary Ash Carter are in the region for an international security summit, which was already certain be dominated by Chinese reclamation work and its burgeoning territorial ambitions.

“We can confirm that we have identified some weapons on one of these reclaimed Chinese islands,” Warren said. “The militarization of these islands is something we are opposed to.”

The U.S. has been flying surveillance planes over the area, prompting China to file a protest after a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon flew over one of the sites.

The U.S. and its partners in the region have been concerned over China’s land reclamation projects in the South China Sea which are estimated to total more than 2,000 acres.

A number of countries have expressed concern that the island building could lead to restrictions on navigation or enforcement of a potential air defense identification over the South China Sea. Beijing declared such a zone over disputed islands

U.S. and other regional officials have expressed concerns about the island building, including worries that it may be a prelude to navigation restrictions or the enforcement of a possible air defense identification zone over the South China Sea. China declared such a zone in 2013 over disputed islands which Japan holds in the East China Sea.

Asked about reports of Chinese weapons on one of the land reclamation islands, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she is "not aware of the situation you mention, but China has clearly reiterated its position several times on the islands in the South China Sea."

The Associated Press reported that she said the U.S. should be "rational and calm and stop making any provocative remarks” because they would “aggravate the regional peace and stability."

The issue is expected to dominate the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regular meeting of leaders and defense ministers to discuss Asia-Pacific security issues, which has opened in Singapore.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is attending the conference along with Carter, said Friday that the weapons movement could further isolate China, according to the Reuters news agency.

"It is a disturbing development and escalatory development, one which heightens our need to make the Chinese understand that their actions are in violation of international law and their actions are going to be condemned by everyone in the world,” McCain told reporters.

China raised eyebrows earlier this year when it started rapidly expanding the reclaimed islands atop reefs in one of the world’s most important trade routes. The U.S. and its allies in the region have long worried about China’s expanding military presence and increasingly aggressive maritime stance.

In Singapore Carter said the U.S. operations will continue in the South China Sea despite protests from China.

“We've been flying over the South China Sea for years and years and years, and as I indicated today, we'll continue to do that -- fly, navigate, operate. So that's not a new fact,” he told reporters.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

 

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