Updated 00:13 AM PHT Fri, December 16, 2016
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — China confirmed and defended on Thursday its deployment of military equipment on Spratly Islands as earlier reported by a U.S. think tank.
The Chinese defense ministry, in its official microblog, said putting up "necessary military installations" in Spratlys was legitimate and lawful.
The ministry was responding to a report yesterday by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) that based on satellite imagery, China apparently installed weapons on seven artificial islands in the disputed waters.
AMTI director Greg Poling told Reuters that AMTI had spent months trying to figure out what the purposes of the structures was.
"This is the first time that we're confident in saying they are anti-aircraft and CIWS (close-in weapons systems or anti-missiles) emplacements," Poling said. "We did not know that they had systems this big and this advanced there."
He added, "This is militarization. The Chinese can argue that it's only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict," Poling added. "They keep saying they are not militarizing, but they could deploy fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles tomorrow if they wanted to."
'Cause for serious concern'
Meanwhile, the Philippines' Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana had said the Department of National Defense (DND) was verifying the think tank's report.
Lorenzana said if this would turn out to be true, it would be "a big concern" for the Philippines and the international community.
"It would mean that the Chinese are militarizing the area which is not good," he added.
For his part, Foreign Affair spokesman, Asec. Charles Jose, said that if the reports were indeed true, it would be "a cause for serious concern because it tends to raise tension and undermine peace and stability in the region."
"We thus renew our call to all parties concerned to refrain from taking any action that would raise tension in the region and further complicate the situation. Concerned parties should instead work together to promote peace, security & stability in the South China Sea," Jose said.