Should Beijing soon pursue deployments from the Spratlys, as predicted, they could potentially reach northern Australia and US defense facilities on Guam, according to the AMTI.
This comes just weeks after reports that the Chinese military installed radar jamming equipment and deployed their first missiles in their Spratly holdings.
And in mid-April, China conducted its largest-ever naval parade in the South China Sea, which came after the aircraft carrier Liaoning led a flotilla of 48 naval vessels plus 76 fighter jets in two-days of combat drills.
In a 2015 visit to Washington, Chinese President Xi Jinping assured then-US President Barack Obama, “China does not intend to pursue militarization.” But US military officials say China’s recent military activities belie that promise.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told CNN, “the United States remains committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he adds, “China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilize the region.”
At the US Navy Pacific Fleet’s change of command ceremony in Hawaii on Friday, outgoing commander Adm. Scott Swift called what is happening in the South China Sea an example of “using might to make it right … a creeping genesis of a new rules-based order formed on the basis of military power, not international consensus.”
Earlier this month, the Trump administration warned China’s growing militarization would provoke “near-term and long-term consequences,” according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
But experts, and one key US military commander, say China has put itself in a very strong position in the South China Sea.
While the US Navy regularly conducts freedom of navigation operations through the area, the PLA’s maneuvers and deployments there suggest the operations have done little to slow the process.
“The Chinese don’t fear they are provoking a crisis,” said Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “China has many more tools that it can use against its neighbors in peacetime and the US doesn’t have sufficient capability to shape events.”