TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan said Wednesday that China had positioned anti-aircraft missiles on a disputed South China Sea island, as Australia’s foreign minister began talks in Beijing expected to deal with tensions over China’s moves to assert its maritime claims.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement it had “grasped that Communist China had deployed” an unspecified number of missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel group. The Philippines said the development increased regional tensions.
The move would follow China’s building of new islands in the disputed sea by piling sand atop reefs and then adding airstrips and military installations. They are seen as part of Beijing’s efforts to claim virtually the entire South China Sea and its resources, which has prompted some of its wary neighbors to draw closer to the U.S.
The most dramatic work has taken place in the Spratly Island group, where the militaries of four nations have a presence, although similar work has also gone on at Woody and other Chinese holdings in the Paracels.
“The military will pay close attention to subsequent developments,” the Taiwanese ministry statement said. Relevant parties should “work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea region to refrain from any unilateral measure that would increase tensions,” the statement added.
U.S. network Fox News also said China had moved surface-to-air missiles to the Paracels, identifying them as two batteries of the HQ-9 system, along with radar targeting arrays. The missiles have a range of about 200 kilometers (125 miles), making them a threat to all forms of civilian and military aircraft.
Called Yongxingdao by China, Woody island is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. Along with an artificial harbor, it boasts an airport, roads, army posts and other buildings and recent satellite imagery appears to show it is adding a helicopter base likely dedicated to anti-submarine warfare missions.
Taiwan and China claim almost the whole 3.5 million-square-kilometer (1.35 million-square-mile) South China Sea, including the Paracel chain. Vietnam and the Philippines claim much of the ocean, as well. Brunei and Malaysia have smaller claims.
Home to some of the world’s busiest sea lanes, the ocean is also rich in fisheries and may hold oil and natural gas reserves under the seabed.
China’s move is likely to rattle Vietnam the most because of its proximity to the Paracels and because of a history of maritime tensions with China that spiked in 2014 with a standoff after China moved a massive oil rig into disputed waters.
Neither Bishop nor Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi mentioned the South China Sea directly during opening…