China deploys jets to disputed island in Paracels: US officials

File photo taken on July 27, 2012 shows part of the city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody island in the disputed Paracel chain, which China considers part of Hainan province.
File photo taken on July 27, 2012 shows part of the city of Sansha on the island of Yongxing, also known as Woody island in the disputed Paracel chain, which China considers part of Hainan province. PHOTO: AFP

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

Citing two unnamed American 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 chain over the past few days. Navy Captain Darryn James, a spokesman for the US Pacific Command, confirmed the report, but noted that Chinese fighter jets had 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," Capt James said on Tuesday.

Asked about the jets at a regular briefing in Beijing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying neither confirmed nor denied their existence.

Ms Hua said only that China's activities in the Paracels fell within the scope of its sovereign territory and were therefore "in accordance with the principles of heaven and earth, and beyond reproach".

"While you are paying attention to China, have you also paid attention to all the other coastal countries that have occupied China's islands and reefs in the past decades and deployed radar and advanced weapons there?" she asked.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2016, with the headline 'China deploys jets to disputed island in Paracels: US officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe