China deploys fighter jets to Woody Island in South China Sea: US officials

Woody Island, an island in the South China Sea occupied by China and claimed by several other countries, is shown in satellite images taken on Feb 14 and Feb 3, 2016.
Woody Island, an island in the South China Sea occupied by China and claimed by several other countries, is shown in satellite images taken on Feb 14 and Feb 3, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
This file aerial view taken on July 27, 2012 shows part of the city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody island.
This file aerial view taken on July 27, 2012 shows part of the city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody island. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - China has deployed fighter jets to the same contested island in the South China Sea to which it has also sent surface-to-air missiles, US officials said.

Citing two unnamed US officials, Fox News said US intelligence services had spotted Chinese Shenyang J-11 and Xian JH-7 warplanes on Woody Island in the disputed Paracel Islands chain over the past few days.

Navy Captain Darryn James, a spokesman for US Pacific Command, confirmed the report but noted that Chinese fighter jets have previously used the island.

Woody Island, which is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam, has had an operational airfield since the 1990s but it was upgraded last year to accommodate the J-11.

"We are still concerned that the Chinese continue to put advanced arms systems on this disputed territory," Cpt James said.

The move was reported as US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Washington.

Last week, China confirmed it had placed "weapons" on Woody Island, defending what it said was its sovereign right to do so.

A US official told AFP that Beijing has deployed surface-to-air missiles on the island, apparently HQ-9s, which have a range of about 200 km.

Mr Wang had been scheduled to visit the Pentagon earlier on Tuesday (Feb 23) but the visit was cancelled due to a "scheduling conflict," officials said.

On Monday, the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies released satellite imagery showing what appeared to be a high-frequency radar installation under construction on an artificial island on Cuarteron Reef in the Spratlys.

China's land reclamation and military buildup in the South China Sea have drawn international condemnation and the United States has said it will continue to sail through waters claimed by Beijing.