China installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles in three outposts of the South China Sea, CNBC reported on May 2.
According to the report, the land-based defensive missile systems had been set up in Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef of the Spratly Islands within the past 30 days.
The director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Gregory Poling, stressed the growing tensions in the region:
“[The missile deployment] is a pretty clear threat to the other claimants and furthers China’s goal of establishing complete control over the water and airspace of the South China Sea,” Poling stated.
“This should be seen as China crossing an important threshold. Missile platforms present a clear offensive threat.”
The land-based anti-ship cruise missiles, designated as YJ-12B, allow China to strike surface vessels within 295 nautical miles of the reefs. Meanwhile, the long-range surface-to-air missiles designated as HQ-9B, have an expected range of targeting aircraft, drones and cruise missiles within 160 nautical miles.
China also deployed similar systems in the nearby Paracel Islands. Satellite images of Woody Island, Beijing’s military headquarters in the South China Sea, showed deployments of Y-8 transport aircraft as well as J-10 and J-11 fighter jets.
Poling predicted that China would most likely work to boost its air power on the reefs in the Spratlys:
“Next up will be deployments of combat aircraft, which we should expect sooner rather than later.”
Meanwhile, the US Air Force patrolled the South China Sea. According to the US Air Force Times newspaper, on April 24, the US Air Force flew B-52H Stratofortress bombers to the South China Sea as a part of a training mission.
Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman Lieutenant colonel Megan Schafer said that the B-52s took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, where they had conducted a training mission in the vicinity of the South China Sea. The bombers then flew to Okinawa to train with American F-15C Strike Eagles before returning to Guam. The bombers were among six B-52s the US Air Force deployed to Guam from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana in January.
“Continuous bomber presence missions are intended to maintain the readiness of U.S. forces [and] are in accordance with international law,” Schafer stressed.
The US and Chinese regional arms race comes at a time of increasing tension between Washington and Beijing in the economic sphere, already described as the trade war.
On April 3, Washington published a list of 1,333 Chinese imports with worth about $50 billion, for punitive tariffs of 25 %. On April 5, the US President Donald Trump stated the readiness to increase the tariffs up to $ 100 million. On April 6, China promised to respond with the same measures to the USA.
According to the annual report on “Intellectual Property Rights” of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) released on April 27, “China is on the Priority Watch List for the 14th consecutive year. Longstanding and new IP concerns merit increased attention, including China’s coercive technology transfer practices, range of impediments to effective IP enforcement, and widespread infringing activity—including trade secret theft, rampant online piracy, and counterfeit manufacturing”.
The report was met with objections from the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China (MOFCOM), which said the US had lacked objective standards and fairness.
“The Chinese side opposes this, and urges the U.S. to earnestly fulfill its bilateral commitments, respect the facts, and objectively, impartially, evaluate with positive intentions the efforts made by foreign governments including China in the area of intellectual property rights and the results achieved,” reads the statement issued on April 28.
Since then, the issues in the economic sphere between the world’s two biggest economies have remained unsolved.
On May 2, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stressed that countries should “properly resolve relevant disputes through equal-footed consultation and maintain the long-term stability” of the China-US trade ties.
“As long as the US is sincere about maintaining the long-term stability of China-US economic and trade ties and comes to the negotiating table with mutual respect, equal-footed consultation and win-win results in mind, then we believe that the bilateral consultation would be constructive”, spokeswoman said.
On May 3, a trade delegation from the US arrived in Beijing to hold 2-day talks with Chinese officials on trade policies. The discussions, led by US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, are expected to cover a wide range of issues in this standoff between two greatest economic powers.
Our great financial team is in China trying to negotiate a level playing field on trade! I look forward to being with President Xi in the not too distant future. We will always have a good (great) relationship!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
Any detailed information hasn’t been provided during the negotiations so far. However, Mnuchin emphasized that said that China and the US “are having very good conversations”.