China has fully militarised at least three of several islands it built in the disputed South China Sea, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment and fighter jets in an increasingly aggressive move that threatens all nations operating nearby, a top US military commander said on Sunday.
US Indo-Pacific commander Admiral John C Aquilino said the hostile actions were in stark contrast to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s past assurances that Beijing would not transform the artificial islands in contested waters into military bases. The efforts were part of China’s flexing its military muscle, he said.
“I think over the past 20 years we’ve witnessed the largest military build-up since World War II by the PRC,” Aquilino told Associated Press in an interview, using the initials of China’s formal name. “They have advanced all their capabilities and that build-up of weaponisation is destabilising to the region.”
There were no immediate comments from Chinese officials. Beijing maintains its military profile is purely defensive, arranged to protect what it says are its sovereign rights.