- Placement of a high frequency radar on Cuarteron Reef would significantly bolster China\'s ability to monitor surface and air traffic coming north from the Malacca Straits and other strategically important channels, says CSIS
- Last week, China had confirmed that it had placed weapons on Woody Island in the Paracels, defending what it said was its sovereign right to do so.
According to a report by American think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Beijing is installing radar facilities on its artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea.
The report adds that satellite imagery of Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly Islands shows what appears to be a high-frequency radar installation, as well as a lighthouse, an underground bunker, a helipad and other communications equipment.
These photographs come only a week after US officials said China had deployed surface to air missiles in the Paracel Islands further north, leading to mounting tensions in the strategically vital region.
"Placement of a high frequency radar on Cuarteron Reef would significantly bolster China's ability to monitor surface and air traffic coming north from the Malacca Straits and other strategically important channels," said CSIS's Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
Images of other small reefs nearby which China has transformed into artificial islands -- Gaven, Hughes, and Johnson South -- revealed other features identified by CSIS as possible radar towers, gun emplacements, bunkers, helipads, and quays, an AFP report added.
What CSIS has to say:
- While the earlier deployment of HQ-9 surface to air missiles was notable, it does not alter the military balance in the South China Sea.
- "New radar facilities being developed in the Spratlys, on the other hand, could significantly change the operational landscape."
The US has in recent months sent warships to sail within 12 nautical miles -- the usual territorial limit around natural land -- of a disputed island and one of China's artificial constructions in what it says is a defence of the right to free passage.
The eastern section of China's outpost on Hughes Reef, as of February 7, 2016.
China's artificial island on Johnson South Reef, as of February 9, 2016.
Beijing's territorial claims:
Beijing has claimed almost the whole of the South China Sea, through which a third of the world's oil passes while several other states have competing claims including Taiwan. This move has created geopolitical tensions as numerous neighbouring nations have questioned the validity of these claims in international forums.
Last week, China had confirmed that it had placed weapons on Woody Island in the Paracels, defending what it said was its sovereign right to do so.
Here's what Beijing had to say:
"We have the right to defend the right to freedom of navigation and our island building aims to provide public goods, such as search and rescue facilities. We also have the right to deploy necessary self-defence capabilities."
You can read the full report here.