China sets up defense systems on South China Sea reef

China has set up rocket launchers on a reef in the disputed South China Sea as a defensive measure against Vietnamese military combat divers.

The Chinese state-run Defense Times newspaper reported on Tuesday that China’s military had installed on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands the Norinco CS/AR-1 55mm anti-frogman rocket launcher defense systems, which have the capability to discover, identify, and attack enemy combat divers.

Though the report did not indicate when the defense system had been installed on the reef, it did point out that the deployment had been part of a reactive measure that was initiated in May 2014, when Vietnamese divers installed large numbers of fishing nets in the Paracel Islands. Fishing reportedly constitutes a national security issue for Vietnam.

The Chinese military has carried out major construction work on Fiery Cross Reef, one of several Chinese-controlled entities in the South China Sea where the country has conducted such work.

Earlier, the Chinese military reportedly deployed advanced airborne early warning and control airplanes to a military airbase near the disputed South China Sea.

While Fiery Cross Reef is administered by China, it is also claimed by other regional countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

The development comes as Beijing has declared that military construction on the islands it controls in the South China Sea will be limited to essential defensive measures and that it can conduct whatever it deems appropriate on its own territory.

However, the US has censured what it refers to as China’s militarization of its maritime outposts and has attempted to assert its right to freedom of navigation by conducting periodic air and naval patrols near Chinese waters, prompting Beijing’s anger.

An estimated five trillion dollars in global trade is shipped through the South China Sea annually.

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