China ‘challenged’ missile report
China has “challenged” reports that it deployed advanced surface-to-air missiles to a disputed island in the South China Sea, Australia’s foreign minister said on Thursday, as Beijing told Canberra to stop interfering.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island in the Paracels chain, which has been under Chinese control for decades, but is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
A US defense official confirmed the “apparent deployment” of the missiles, first reported by Fox News.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the first senior Western official to visit China since the missile reports, said she had raised the issue of the South China Sea’s militarization in her talks.
“President Xi (Jinping) said in Washington last year that China did not intend to militarise the islands and we certainly hold China to that and that’s been reiterated to me,” she told reporters, after meeting China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi.
“In the case of the surface-to-air missile claim, that’s disputed by China. We raised the matter and we’ve had a discussion about it,” Bishop added.
Pressed on whether China was denying the presence of missiles, she said, “No, they did not deny, but nor did they admit that there were. It was challenged. The reports were challenged.
“The point about the surface-to-air missiles is in dispute, so until such time as we have a clear picture of it, of course it’s a matter of concern.”
Yang, in a statement released by the Foreign Ministry after Bishop spoke to reporters, said he had explained to her that the islands in the South China Sea had been China’s since ancient times.
“The limited defensive facilities that China has deployed on its own territory have nothing do with militarization,” Yang told Bishop, according to the statement.
Australia is not a party to the dispute, should stick to its promises not to take sides and “not participate in or take any actions to harm regional peace and stability or Sino-Australia ties,” he said.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.