China may be installing a high-frequency radar system on a disputed island in the South China Sea, a U.S. think tank reported Monday. The move, which is seen as a significant step by Beijing to boost its ability to assert control over the region, comes days after China deployed surface-to-air missiles on one of the contested islands.
The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies said recent satellite images show that construction of facilities at Cuarteron Reef, located at the eastern end of the London Reefs in the Spratly Islands, appeared nearly complete.
"Two probable radar towers have been built on the northern portion of the feature, and a number of 65-foot (20-meter) poles have been erected across a large section of the southern portion," the report said. "These poles could be a high-frequency radar installation, which would significantly bolster China's ability to monitor surface and air traffic across the southern portion of the South China Sea."
According to Reuters, Chinese authorities did not respond to the claim.
The report, which based its analysis on satellite images from January and February, also said: “In addition to these radar facilities, China has constructed a buried bunker and lighthouse on the northern portion of the feature, a number of buildings and a helipad in its center, communications equipment to the south, and a quay with a loading crane on the western end of the outpost."
The U.S. has been aggressively challenging China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, which are disputed by many of its Asian neighbors. Since last October, U.S. warships have sailed close to China's claimed islands as part of the so-called "freedom of navigation" operations that Beijing has termed provocative.
Last week, U.S. and Taiwanese officials confirmed anti-aircraft missiles had been placed on Woody Island, which is part of the Paracels chain that has been under Chinese control for more than 40 years but is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
China's Foreign Ministry said Monday that its military deployments in the South China Sea are no different than U.S. military deployments in Hawaii.