More wages from Obama's vaunted Pivot to Asia: According to new satellite imagery, the construction of extensive Chinese facilities in the Spratly Islands-including aircraft hangars, radar systems, and missile defense facilities-is all but complete.
Its director Greg Poling told Voice of America that new antennas had been spotted on Subi and Fiery Cross, so he expected deployments there soon.
During his state visit to Australia last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang assuaged concerns over rising tensions in the South China Sea, saying Beijing is not militarising the waterway and that defence equipment it has installed on artificial islands is mostly for civilian use.
The think tank added that China had also constructed hangars on the three reefs for up to 24 combat aircraft each, however the Fiery Cross facility has the additional capability to accommodate four larger planes, such as refueling or bomber aircraft.
China has denied U.S. charges that it is militarising the South China Sea, although last week Premier Li Keqiang said defense equipment had been placed on islands in the disputed waterway to maintain "freedom of navigation".
"But the reality of the situation in the South China Sea is that China will have the capacity, and has demonstrated the will, to use its presence on these artificial islands to intimidate and coerce other militaries, coastguards and fishing fleets".
USA officials told Reuters last month that China had finished building nearly two dozen structures on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross that appeared created to house long-range surface-to-air missiles.
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U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during his first overseas trip in February said that China had "shredded the trust" of its neighbors, and advocated for a diplomatic solution to the conflicting regional claims.
China's foreign ministry said that while it is not aware of the AMTI's latest report, it is has the right to place military equipment on what it considers sovereign Chinese territory.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said in Manila that China and the Philippines have agreed to hold a bilateral consultation on the South China Sea disputes and Beijing has offered to host an initial meeting in May.
The Philippines sent last week a note verbale to China to seek clarification on its plans to build the first permanent structure on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
The report comes less than a week after China's second-most powerful leader denied Beijing was militarising islands it has claimed in the Sea. Obviously, China wasn't interested to be lectured by the U.S.
Commenting on the report, a senior Philippine defense official said the construction China has carried out on the islands "belies a clearly military objective contrary to Chinese public pronouncements that it is civilian in nature". Were China really concerned about issues like global disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, it could simply relinquish its claim to the exclusive economic zones of poorer and more disaster-prone countries like the Philippines and Vietnam.