HANOI • Vietnam lodged a formal protest with China and the United Nations yesterday, saying it was "deeply concerned" over Beijing's apparent deployment of an advanced surface-to-air missile system on a disputed island in the South China Sea.
"These are serious infringements of Vietnam's sovereignty over the Paracels, threatening peace and stability in the region as well as security, safety and freedom of navigation and flight," Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement.
The statement said diplomatic notes had been sent to China's embassy in Hanoi and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to protest against Beijing's move.
Taiwan, which also claims the Paracels, and United States officials said on Wednesday that the missile system had been deployed to Woody Island, the largest of the China-controlled Paracel chain.
While Chinese officials have refused to deny or confirm the deployment, China's Defence Ministry has confirmed that "China has deployed weapons on the island for a long time", reported the Global Times newspaper. It did not specify what these were.
US Secretary of State John Kerry slammed China for its increased "militarisation" in the South China Sea and said Washington expects to have "very serious" talks with Beijing.
Australia and New Zealand yesterday also voiced alarm over the news that Beijing has sent what appeared to be HQ-9 missiles to Woody Island. These weapons have a range of 200km.
"We urge all claimants in the South China Sea to refrain from any building of islands, any militarisation of islands, any land reclamation," Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said after meeting his New Zealand counterpart John Key in Sydney.
"It is absolutely critical that we ensure that there is a lowering of tensions," he added.
POSSIBLE SHOW OF FORCE
While these air defence systems provide a notable military capability, their presence on the island does not necessarily reflect a major escalation. They are packed closely together on a sand platform near the waterline in a way that suggests they are either part of a training operation or a conspicuous show of force.
THE STRATFOR REPORT
Mr Turnbull said that if Chinese President Xi Jinping was serious about avoiding the so-called Thucydides Trap, where a rising power causes fear in an established power that escalates towards war, he must resolve disputes through international law.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei criticised Australia and New Zealand for their remarks, saying they were not involved in the South China Sea. "We hope the two countries can objectively view the historical developments of the South China Sea, not neglect the facts, and not put forward proposals that are unconstructive," he said at a regular press briefing.
New imagery obtained by the US-based Stratfor global intelligence firm, and released to its clients yesterday, showed a higher- resolution view of the activities taking place across Woody Island.
Specialists at AllSource Analysis have identified two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air launchers, as well as supporting vehicles such as an engagement radar and the Type 305B AESA acquisition radar, said Stratfor in its analysis.
"While these air defence systems provide a notable military capability, their presence on the island does not necessarily reflect a major escalation.
"They are packed closely together on a sand platform near the waterline in a way that suggests they are either part of a training operation or a conspicuous show of force," said the Stratfor report.
The visibility of the deployment raises the possibility that it was intended to send a political message, said Stratfor, which noted that news of the deployment coincided with the US-Asean summit at Sunnylands in California.
At the summit on Monday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung suggested to US President Barack Obama that Washington take "more efficient actions" against militarisation and island- building.