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Island missiles claim downplayed by Chinese officials

Published 17/02/2016

Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen issued a call for calm (AP)
Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen issued a call for calm (AP)

China has sought to downplay reports it has positioned anti-aircraft missiles on a disputed South China Sea island.

Foreign minister Wang Yi accused the media of hyping the issue and said more attention should be paid to the "public goods and services" provided by China's development of its maritime claims.

Taiwan's ministry of national defence said it had "grasped that Communist China had deployed" missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel chain.

The move would follow China's building of new islands in the disputed sea by piling sand atop reefs and then adding airstrips and military installations.

The build-up is seen as part of Beijing's efforts to claim virtually the entire South China Sea and its resources, which has prompted some of its neighbours to draw closer to the US.

The most dramatic work has taken place in the Spratly Island group, where the militaries of four nations have a presence, although similar work has also gone on at Woody and other Chinese holdings in the Paracels.

"The military will pay close attention to subsequent developments," the Taiwanese ministry statement said.

Relevant parties should "work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region to refrain from any unilateral measure that would increase tensions", the statement added.

Taiwan's president-elect Tsai Ing-wen issued a call for calm, saying: "We urge every party to uphold peace in settling the South China Sea dispute and use self-restraint."

US network Fox News also said China had moved surface-to-air missiles to the Paracels, identifying them as two batteries of the HQ-9 system, along with radar-targeting arrays.

The missiles have a range of about 125 miles, putting all forms of aircraft within reach.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr Bill Urban did not confirm any missile deployment but said the US was watching closely.

"While I cannot comment on matters of intelligence, we do watch these matters very closely. The United States continues to call on all claimants to halt land reclamation, construction and militarisation of features in the South China Sea," he said.

Following talks with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, Mr Wang said he had become aware of the missile reports just minutes before.

"We believe this is an attempt by certain western media to create news stories," Mr Wang said.

Echoing claims the island development was largely civilian-oriented and benefited the region, Mr Wang pointed to the construction of lighthouses, weather stations and rescue and shelter facilities for fishermen.

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