|China has deployed a drone with stealth capabilities for the first time to a disputed island in the South China Sea, according to new satellite imagery.|
The images, obtained from ImageSat International (ISI), show the deployment of the Chinese Harbin BZK-005 long-range reconnaissance drone on Woody Island. It's thought the drone doesn't yet have the capability to fire missiles, and it doesn't appear to be armed in the satellite images. The drone can remain airborne for 40 hours, and is primarily used for surveillance.
|Further satellite images taken of the island show that HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles have been transferred to other locations.|
|The report comes just a day after reports that China is planning to dispatch nuclear submarines into the Pacific for the first time, amid heightened tensions with the US.|
The US has stepped up its deterrence measures around the South China Sea in recent months.
|The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean, encompassing an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometres (1,400,000 sq mi).|
The area's importance largely results from one-third of the world's shipping sailing through its waters and that it is believed to hold huge oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed.
|The latest installment in the potentially lethal geopolitical drama unfolded over the weekend, a day after the Pentagon issued its annual report to the U.S. Congress about how Beijing is assertively defending sovereignty claims across both the contested East China Sea and South China Sea. |
The report hit hard at China’s rapid military growth in the area.
The guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence, leads the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis
|The U.S. destroyer USS William P. Lawrence last week sailed by China's largest man-made island that challenges Beijing's vast claims in the South China Sea.|
The ship made "innocent passage" within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of Fiery Cross Reef, the limit of what international law regards as an island's territorial sea. The reef, which used to be submerged at high tide for all but two rocks, is now an artificial island with a long airstrip, harbor and burgeoning above-ground infrastructure. It dwarfs all other features in the disputed area. China's Defense Ministry said it deployed two navy fighter jets, one early warning aircraft and three ships to track and warn off the vessel.
Chinese ships on exercise
|Central to China’s claims are its land-reclamation efforts that have seen tiny islets, reefs and other maritime features built into military facilities. The Pentagon report included dramatic photos of these contentious islands, including the Fiery Cross Reef Outpost, located between the Philippines and Vietnam.|
Since 2014, China has turned a sandy blip in the ocean into an island stretching more than two miles (three kilometers,) complete with a lengthy runway. At least 20 structures are visible on the southern side of the island, including a helipad.
|A United Nations arbitration court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks. The UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, which agreed to hear the case in October 2015, is expected to rule in favour of Manila.|
It is widely expected that China will ignore it.
Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands
|China kicked off military exercises in the disputed South China Sea, east Indian Ocean and West Pacific involving advanced warships, helicopters and “special warfare” soldiers. Three naval ships of China’s Nanhai Fleet left a naval port in Sanya, Hainan Province on Wednesday, kicking off a combat drill.|
Guided missile destroyer Hefei.
|The three ships include missile destroyer Hefei, missile frigate Sanya and supply ship Honghu.|
Missile frigate Sanya
China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea - a major shipping lane rich in natural resources. Over half of the world’s commercial shipping passes through the waterway.|
|Beijing landed a military plane on a disputed South China Sea reef it has built up into an artificial island, officials said on Monday, in the first confirmation of such a flight. An air force plane landed on Fiery Cross reef in the Spratlys archipelago on Sunday to evacuate sick workers, a news report posted online by China’s defense ministry said.|
|China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, even waters close to its Southeast Asian neighbors, and has created artificial islands in an effort to assert these claims. China has significantly expanded Fiery Cross, which is also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.|
| In 2014, China began work on a 3,000-metre runway on the reef, which is around 1,000 kilometres from its island province of Hainan.|
“On the Chinese territory, this kind of thing is not surprising at all,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
|Indonesia on Monday protested the Chinese coast guard's retrieval of a ship while it was detained for fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. An Indonesian fisheries ministry patrol ship had intercepted the Chinese vessel on Saturday within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone which overlaps with the southernmost reaches of the South China Sea. Eight crewmen were detained.|
|The fishing vessel Kway Fey was being towed when a Chinese coastguard vessel collided with it, allowing its escape.|
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said China's coast guard "violated our sovereignty" and called on China to respect international law. China's expansive claims to most of the South China Sea have raised tensions with several Southeast Asian countries, especially as China reclaims land on reefs and builds infrastructure in disputed areas.
|The U.S. Navy has dispatched a small armada to the South China Sea. The carrier John C. Stennis, two destroyers, two cruisers and the 7th Fleet flagship have sailed into the disputed waters in recent days. The carrier strike group is the latest show of force in the tense region, with the U.S. asserting that China is militarizing the region to guard its excessive territorial claims.||Guided missile cruiser USS Antietam|
|The Chinese military has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea. The imagery from ImageSat International (ISI) shows two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea.|
This provides more evidence that China is increasingly "militarizing" its islands in the South China Sea. It is the same island chain where a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed a few weeks ago. China at the time vowed “consequences” for the action. Woody Island is also claimed by Taiwan and by Vietnam.
Aerial view of the city of Sansha on an island in the disputed Paracel chain.
Chinese construction on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
|A U.S. official confirmed the accuracy of the photos. The official said the imagery viewed appears to show the HQ-9 air defense system.|
In the past two years, China has built over 3,000 acres of territory atop seven reefs in the area. There are a total of three runways built on three of the artificial islands.
|It is this very strong belief we are on the brink of some serious consequences moving forward here citizens.|
|The US has seen Chinese activity around a reef China seized from the Philippines nearly four years ago that could be a precursor to more land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea.|
China's claims raise fears Beijing will declare an exclusion zone in the busy trade route. China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year.
| Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. Head of U.S. naval operations Admiral John Richardson said the United States was weighing responses to such a move.|
| China could respond to an expected ruling by the court of arbitration in The Hague by declaring an air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, as it did to the north, in the East China Sea, in 2013.|
On Wednesday China reported it is building a tsunami alert center in the South China Sea.