[Ed. – Analysts have assumed all along that China would be doing this, but the Australian reporting is the first official indication that it’s happening. The timing by Beijing appears to be tying this move to the U.S. surveillance flights in international air space in the South China Sea. No word yet on what the weapons are.]
China has moved weaponry onto artificial islands that it is building in contested areas of the South China Sea, adding to the risks of a confrontation with the United States and its regional security partners including Australia.
Australian officials are concerned that China could also introduce long-range radar, anti-aircraft guns and regular surveillance flights that will enable it to project military power across a maritime expanse which include some of Australia’s busiest trading lanes.
Fairfax understands that these concerns are prompting discussions in senior military circles that could lead to Australian naval officers and air force pilots embarking on “freedom of navigation” missions to demonstrate that Canberra does not accept Beijing’s hardening claims.
The options, which include fly-throughs, sail-throughs and exercises involving various regional partners, are expected to crystallise after officials deliver a personal briefing to Prime Minister Tony Abbott during the next fortnight.