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Defense Ministry says installations are mainly for self defense

"Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands," think tank says

Hong Kong CNN  — 

New satellite imagery indicates that China has installed weapon systems on all seven artificial islands it has built in the contested waters of the South China Sea.

It’s a move that’s likely to alarm the country’s neighbors and further unsettle ties with the United States, where President-elect Donald Trump has shown himself increasingly willing to confront and challenge Beijing.

The images, released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, show anti-aircraft guns plus other weapons systems that would guard against cruise missiles sitting in hexagonal structures on the islands.

China has already built military-length airstrips on three of these artificial islands, previous analysis by the AMTI, part of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has shown.

China’s Defense Ministry said the military installations were proper and lawful, and mainly for self-defense.

“If others are flexing their military muscles at your doorstep, are you not even supposed to have a slingshot in hand just in case?” a statement said.

The organization’s findings come despite a pledge from China’s leadership that it has no intention of militarizing the islands.

Showdown in the South China Sea: How we got here

Hawkish president?

Since winning the presidency, Trump has seemingly rewritten US foreign policy on the fly.

He took a phone call from Taiwan’s president, upending decades of diplomatic protocol and questioned the long-standing US position that the Taiwan is part of “one China.”

“All the indications we’ve seen since the election imply that he will be a more hawkish president vis-a-vis China,” said Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

“We don’t know yet entirely what his South China Sea policy will be but many of his advisers have been critical of the Obama’s administration for being too weak,” he added.

A satellite image of Johnson Reef taken on November 29. AMTI says the military structures on this island are less complex than the newer ones on Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs.