WASHINGTON — China has increased its radar capabilities from 50 kilometers to 300 kilometers on disputed islands it has seized in the South China Sea, further tightening its grip on that major international waterway.
“Since 2014, China has substantially expanded its ability to monitor and project power throughout the South China Sea via the construction of dual civilian-military bases at its outposts in the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands,” an analysis released Friday by the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said.
“These include new radar and communications arrays, airstrips and hangars to accommodate combat aircraft, and deployments of mobile surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missile systems,” it said.
The extended radar capability is of great concern to the Pentagon. In the event of a war with China in the South China Sea, the U.S. would have to send air and sea forces a great distance to engage the Chinese; the further distance the movement can be spotted by Beijing, the more vulnerable U.S. forces become.
Despite protests from nations in the region claiming those islands, and China’s onetime promise not to militarize the locations, Beijing has gone about doing just that. It also has encouraged Chinese fishing in foreign waters, the intentional ramming of foreign fishing boats by Chinese vessels, conducting offshore oil drilling in waters claimed by Vietnam, and is building and militarizing artificial islands, CSIS has said in previous reports.
“China is using hundreds of fishing vessels under the aegis of its publicly acknowledged maritime militia to assert claims and harass its neighbors in the Spratlys,” the report said.
Beijing has ignored a landmark 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in the Hague that affirmed the Philippines’ contention that China has no exclusive rights to most of the South China Sea.
By some estimates, China may control about 80 percent of the South China Sea, according to news reports.
The U.S. and other nations have conducted freedom-of-navigation sailings through the South China Sea and sorties in the sky above the waters to underscore the international aspects of the water and air. Beijing protests the sailings and sorties.
Among the aircraft spotted by satellites and identified on the disputed islands are J-11 fighters and H-6 bombers deployed to Woody Island; HQ-9, YJ-62, and YJ-12B missile systems deployed to Woody Island, Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef; and unspecified bombers and fighters to Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs, CSIS said.
Earlier this week Australia announced it was constructing a new deep water port on its northeast coast — its closet area to the South China Sea — as a response to China’s growing grip in the region. The U.S. Marines said this week that the facility will be home to about 2,000 Marines, at the invitation of the Australian government.
Unconfirmed news reports say the U.S. and Australia also are mulling construction of another military base on Papua, New Guinea.