WASHINGTON • The United States has raised concerns with China about its latest militarisation of the South China Sea and there will be near-term and long-term consequences, the White House said.
US news network CNBC reported on Wednesday that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three man-made outposts in the South China Sea.
It cited sources with direct knowledge of US intelligence.
Asked about the report, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders told a regular news briefing on Thursday: "We're well aware of China's militarisation of the South China Sea. We've raised concerns directly with the Chinese about this and there will be near-term and long-term consequences."
Ms Sanders did not say what the consequences might be.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said US intelligence had seen some signs that China had moved some weapons systems to its artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago in the past month or so, but offered no details.
CNBC quoted unnamed sources as saying that according to US intelligence assessments, the missiles were moved to the Spratlys within the past 30 days to Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and also Mischief Reef, which is 216km from the Philippines, well within Manila's exclusive economic zone. They would be the first Chinese missile deployments in the Spratlys, where Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have rival claims.
'CONSEQUENCES' TO CHINESE ACTION
We're well aware of China's militarisation of the South China Sea. We've raised concerns directly with the Chinese about this and there will be near-term and long-term consequences.
'WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN SARAH SANDERS
China's Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Its Foreign Ministry said China has irrefutable sovereignty over the Spratlys and that necessary defensive deployments were for national security needs and not aimed at any country. "Those who do not intend to be aggressive have no need to be worried or scared," ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said.
Close US ally the Philippines, which is now pursuing strong ties with its historical rival China, gave a cautious response yesterday.
"With our recently developed close relationship and friendship with China, we are confident that those missiles are not directed at us," said Mr Harry Roque, spokesmen for President Rodrigo Duterte. "Be that as it may, we would explore all diplomatic means to address this issue."
Mr Eric Sayers, a former consultant to the commander of the US Pacific Command, called the missile deployment "a major escalation" and said one immediate US response could be to rescind Beijing's invitation to this year's Rim of the Pacific multilateral naval exercises in Hawaii in July. "When China sees that it can get away with these types of actions with little cost... it only makes it more likely they (China) will keep pressing," he said.