20:04 GMT +320 September 2018
Listen Live
    China's Liaoning aircraft carrier with accompanying fleet conducts a drill in an area of South China Sea in this undated photo taken December, 2016

    Beijing Removes Missiles From South China Sea Island (PHOTOS)

    © REUTERS / Stringer
    Asia & Pacific
    Get short URL
    9628

    New satellite images recently released by the Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International (ISI) suggest that Chinese surface-to-air missile systems previously stationed on a contested South China Sea island have either been removed or relocated.

    Woody Island, the largest island in the disputed Paracel Islands chain, hosts several Chinese military installations, including systems for defending the island from sea and aerial attack. But now it seems that some of them have gone missing.

    Analysts, as they typically do, have their own theories regarding the disappearing act. According to Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie, the systems might have been temporarily removed in order to undergo maintenance work.

    "Because of the humid weather, plus a recent typhoon in the region, it is likely that those systems needed to be temporarily removed for repair or to have some of the parts replaced," Li told the South China Morning Post. How long they'll be gone depends on what kind of servicing they need.

    Satellite images taken by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International on June 3, 2018
    Satellite images taken by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International on June 3, 2018

    "[A redeployment] would happen much faster if it's just to change some small parts, but if the whole system needs to be replaced, then it would take much longer because it needed to be shipped back to places like Hainan for replacement," he added.

    Two unidentified US defense officials told CNN it was very unlikely Beijing opted to completely remove the missile system, and suggested instead it's just hidden inside buildings on the island.

    ISI suggested the disappearance might just be part of a routine practice of moving missiles and that they've been redeployed to another island in the region.

    "On the other hand, it may be a regular practice," ISI said in a statement to the outlet. "If so, within the next few days we many observe a redeployment in the same area."

    Photos taken by ImageSat International show disappearance of China's missile systems on Woody Island.
    Photos taken by ImageSat International show disappearance of China's missile systems on Woody Island.

    However, according to Ni Lexiong, a naval expert with Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, the removal has more to do with China trying to take a step back and let the boiling tensions in the region, with the US in particular, settle somewhat.

    "With the increasingly tense relations between the two countries, it's understandable that we make a little gesture of compromise," Ni told the Post. "It's not wise for China to directly confront the US. We shall decide later [on possible redeployment] after the tensions go down."

    "It's better that we make three steps forward and two steps back, because both sides are still restrained and neither side wants to go to war," Ni added.

    Images show China's missile systems stationed on Woody Island have been either removed or relocated.
    Images show China's missile systems stationed on Woody Island have been either removed or relocated.

    The photos, which were snapped on June 3 by ISI, were released days after two US B-52 bombers flew above disputed islets in the South China Sea on Tuesday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying condemned the flyby Wednesday, calling it a US military attempt at "hyping up militarization and stirring up trouble."

    The Post reported that the last time missile systems were removed by China was in 2016, two days before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China's claims over the South China Sea.

    Related:

    France, Britain Sending Ships to Challenge Beijing’s Claims in South China Sea
    China Views US Claims on South China Sea Militarization as Meddling – Official
    US Defense Secretary Mattis Slams China for Militarising South China Sea Islands
    US to Continue Military Exercises in South China Sea, Pentagon Chief Says
    Naval Standoff in South China Sea Signals Change in Sino-US Relations - Analysts
    Tags:
    missile systems, missiles, South China Sea, China
    Community standardsDiscussion
    Comment via FacebookComment via Sputnik
    • Сomment