Chinese missile systems have returned to the disputed Woody Island in the South China Sea after a brief disappearance, the CNN news channel reported, citing information obtained from ImageSat International (ISI) which provided the media outlet with satellite images proving the claim. The images from June 8 show that the missile systems have again been deployed on the sandy shore of the island, whilst previous ones from June 3 show no signs of them.
The mysterious removal of the systems might have been connected with the "corrosive effects of salt and humidity in the islands," making regular maintenance for them a must according to Timothy Heath, a senior defense analyst at the US-based Rand Corporation cited by the media.
The sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea is contested by several countries in the region, including China, which has been deploying its warships, jets and missile systems to some of them, especially the Paracel Islands chain (Woody Island is the largest one in the chain). Beijing claims that all military equipment plays a purely defensive role.
The US believes the South China Sea's waters must remain open to everyone and regularly sends its warships to conduct freedom of navigation operations (FONOP). Beijing has slammed such moves as provocative and urged Washington to cease its military operations in the sea.