China has deployed rocket launchers to fend off Vietnamese combat divers on one of its man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea, Chinese state media reported Wednesday.
Offering new details on China's ongoing military build-up in the South China Sea, the state-run Defense Times newspaper said China installed Norinco CS/AR-1 55mm rocket defense systems on Fiery Cross Reef in the strategic Spratly chain.
The newspaper said the rocket launcher has the capability to discover, identify and attack enemy combat divers.
This comes just days after the two rivals said they would work to “manage and properly control” their maritime disputes.
Although administered by China, Fiery Cross Reef is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Defense Times report did not say when the defense system was installed, but alluded to them being a response to soaring tensions between China and Vietnam in 2014 after China sent a massive oil rig to the area near the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam.
Just two days ago, the rivals said in a joint communique China released Monday that they had agreed to “manage and properly control maritime disputes, not take any actions to complicate the situation or expand the dispute, and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
The United States has criticized the move and called it China's militarization of its maritime outposts and stressed the need for freedom of navigation by conducting periodic air and naval patrols near them that have angered Beijing, according to a Reuters report.
Beijing has conducted extensive land reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef, including building an airport. The reef is one of the several Chinese-controlled features in the South China Sea where China has carried out reclamation work.
Last year, Hanoi lambasted Beijing after reports that China had placed HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, which is part of the Paracel Islands.
More than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped through the disputed South China Sea every year. Besides China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also have territorial claims in the area.