WASHINGTON • United States 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.
"There is every evidence, every day, that there has been an increase of militarisation of one kind or another," Mr Kerry said on Wednesday following reports that Beijing had deployed advanced surface-to- air missiles to a disputed island in the Paracel chain of islands.
"It's of a serious concern," he added.
Reports of the deployment were met with alarm and criticised by governments in the region. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who is in China, expressed concern and said she raised the matter with Chinese officials yesterday.
A US official said the missiles, which arrived on Woody Island in the past week, appeared to be HQ-9s, which have a range of 200km. Experts say these could be used to target enemy aircraft.
A day after Chinese officials refused to deny or confirm the deployment, China's Defence Ministry confirmed that "China has deployed weapons on the island for a long time", reported the Global Times newspaper. It did not specify which weapons were on the island.
There is every evidence, every day, that there has been an increase of militarisation of one kind or another.
UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY, on China's activities in the South China Sea
Beijing has controlled all of the Paracels, also claimed by Hanoi and Taipei, since 1974.
But tensions in the South China Sea, through which a third of the world's oil passes, have risen in recent months since China transformed contested reefs in the Spratly Islands further south into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.
Washington says the move threatens free passage in a strategically vital area and has sent warships to sail close to the disputed islands to assert freedom of navigation, raising fears of escalation.
"We have said repeatedly with respect to China that the standard that should be applied to all countries with respect to the South China Sea is no militarisation," Mr Kerry said.
He recalled that Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed not to militarise the disputed waters during his US visit last year.
"We had these conversations with the Chinese and I'm confident that, over the next days, we will have further very serious conversations on this," he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday that China was entitled to "limited and necessary self-defence facilities" under international law.
Some analysts believe China's increasing military presence in the South China Sea could potentially lead Beijing to declare an Air Defence Identification Zone there.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE