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Taiwan Says Missiles Sent to Contested South China Sea Island by China


Taiwan Says Missiles Sent to Contested South China Sea Island by China
Even as U.S. President Barack Obama urged restraint in the region, China ratcheted tensions by deploying an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, said Taiwan and U.S. officials.
The missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island informed the Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Major General David Lo. Also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, the island is part of the Paracels chain, under Chinese control for more than 40 year.
"Interested parties should work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region and refrain from taking any unilateral measures that would increase tensions," Lo said on Wednesday.
The apparent deployment" of the missiles were also confirmed by a U.S. defense official.
According to Fox News two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system were visible in images from civilian satellite company ImageSat International.
As Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations concluded a summit in California to discuss the need to ease tensions in the region but did not include specific mention of China's assertive pursuit of its claims in the South China Sea, the news came as a surprise for many.
China has been building runways and other infrastructure on artificial islands in the South China Sea and have been claiming claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year.
"We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas," Obama told a news conference.
In order to assure unimpeded passage through the region, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims, the United States has said it will continue conducting "freedom of navigation patrols" by ships and aircraft.
It was not the first time that China has sent such weapons to the Paracels, under Chinese control since 1974, said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a South China Sea expert from of the Center for a New American Security.
"I do think surface to air missiles are a considerable development, If they have been deployed they are probably China's effort to signal a response to freedom-of navigation operations, but I don't think it is a totally unprecedented deployment," she said.
In a move the Pentagon said was aimed at countering efforts by China, Vietnam and Taiwan to limit freedom of navigation, a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels chain last month.
China condemned the U.S. action as provocative.
China said it has rights to set up defenses in the South China Sea even as it said that it would not seek militarization of its South China Sea islands and reefs.
"Woody Island belongs to China. Deploying surface-to-air missiles on our territory is completely within the scope of our sovereign rights. We have sovereignty there, so we can choose whether to militarize it," said Ni Lexiong, a naval expert at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
Taiwan President-elect Tsai Ing-wen said tensions were now higher in the region.
"We urge all parties to work on the situation based on principles of peaceful solution and self-control," Tsai said.

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