As South-East Asian leaders left a meeting with President Obama in California earlier this week, reports began to emerge of important new Chinese military projects on disputed islands in the South China Sea... Details from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
Last month, the US navy sent a destroyer to challenge Chinese claims to the Paracel Islands, which China seized from what was then South Vietnam in 1974. This month, China sent two batteries of modern anti-aircraft missiles to Woody Island, its main base in the Paracels, and new images show freshly constructed facilities for anti-submarine helicopters on Duncan Island, which is also part of the group.
Secretary of State John Kerry denounced what he called a violation of President Xi Jinping's promise not to militarize the South China Sea during his visit to Washington last September. Kerry told reporters, "It's a serious concern," and added that he expects a very serious conversation with Beijing in the next few days. Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the US should consider raising the costs for Beijing.
A statement from the Chinese Ministry of Defense faxed to the New York Times said that China has based forces in the Paracels for many years and decried "hype by certain Western media outlets." Transcripts of President Xi's remarks in Washington show that he referred specifically to a different island group, The Spratleys, and did not mention the Paracels.
Last fall, The US Commander in the Pacific, Admiral Harry Harris, told the US senate that if it comes to war - Chinese island bases would be what he called "grapes” - easy targets "But short of that, the militarization of these features poses a threat against all other countries in the region."