Mar 20, 2022 - World

Report: U.S. admiral says China has fully militarized three islands in South China Sea

Kennan Reef in the Spratly Islands
An aerial view from 2015 of Chinese development on Kennan Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, currently controlled by China and claimed by the Philippines as part of Palawan. Photo: History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

China has fully militarized at least three artificial islands it built in the South China Sea, U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John C. Aquilino told the Associated Press.

Why it matters: The country's territorial claims over the South China Sea have been a frequent source of tension with neighboring nations, as well as the United States, which seeks to bolster its engagement in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.

  • Six other governments — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam — have also asserted claims over the disputed waters.
  • “I think over the past 20 years we’ve witnessed the largest military buildup since World War II,” Aquilino, speaking about China, told AP. “They have advanced all their capabilities and that buildup of weaponization is destabilizing to the region.”

Driving the news: The islands in question are armed with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment and fighter jets, Aquilino told AP.

  • President Xi Jinping has previously said that China would not transform the artificial islands into military bases, according to the AP.
  • It's unknown whether China intends to expand its military construction to other islands, Aquilino said.
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