Between February 3 and February 14, the Chinese government reportedly deployed advanced HQ‑9 surface-to-air missiles (developed and sold by the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC)) on Woody Island, which is part of the disputed Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea (SCS) that is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. These missiles reportedly have a 125-mile range and would pose a serious threat to any flights over the island chain. In addition, China has constructed a 2,700 meter airstrip on Woody Island and has also stationed J‑11 fighters there. These fighters, along with those soon to be stationed on Fiery Cross Island, greatly strengthen China‘s capability to enforce area denial operations in the SCS, if they choose to do so.
China has been working feverishly on land reclamation projects in the SCS that have allowed it to construct airstrips and military installations on both the Paracel and Spratly island chains. The U.S. Navy sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracels as part of its ‘‘‘freedom of navigation‘ exercise not long ago.
The discovery of these sophisticated air defense missiles increases the likelihood that some in Congress and possibly even one more Presidential candidates will recommend U.S. sanctions against those Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) responsible for this provocative island-building exercise and the militarization of same. IntelTrak research indicates the involvement of the following Chinese entities to date:
‘‘ CPMIEC: Developed and sells the HQ‑9 missiles as well as other technologically advanced weapons systems to clients around the world, including Sudan, Iran and Myanmar.
‘‘ China Petroleum Corporation (Sinopec): Constructed a fueling station and storage depot in Sansha City on Woody Island. Construction on the depot is expected to be completed in February 2016 and will have a capacity of 2,000 cubic meters. Sansha City has a population of 1,000 and is used as a command and control hub for China‘s South China Sea claims.
Other Chinese SOEs Active in the SCS
‘‘ China Communications Construction Company (CCCC): Provided dredging services to China‘s land reclamation projects on islands and reefs throughout the SCS.
‘‘ Number 9 Design and Research Institute (subsidiary of China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC)): Involved in the construction of an artificial island, airstrip complex and possible military base at Johnson South Reef.
‘‘ Shanghai Leeding Energy Shipping (subsidiary of the Huaneng Group): Provides transportation services for personal and material to Mischief Reef.
‘‘ Guangdong Navigation Group (GNG) and China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO): Ships owned by both companies have been observed making deliveries to the Spratly Islands.
‘‘ China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC): Moved an oilrig close to Woody Island twice, in May 2014 and January 2016, despite vigorous protests from Vietnam.
‘‘ China Southern Airlines: Company is expected to begin civilian flights to Fiery Cross Reef, it has already completed two test flights on January 6.