Taiwan: China has deployed missiles on South China Sea island

Hong Kong (CNN)China has deployed surface-to-air missiles on an island in the Paracel chain in the South China Sea, the Taiwan government and senior U.S. military officials told CNN.

A statement released by Taiwan's Defense Ministry said that it had first-hand intelligence that confirmed the existence of missile batteries in the region, which is hotly disputed by China and its neighbors.

U.S. officials told CNN that commercial satellite imagery showed the deployment.

"The Taiwanese Defense Ministry has learned of China's deployment of surface-to-air missiles on the Woody Island in the Paracel Islands. The Republic of China military is closely monitoring further development of the situation," the statement said.The deployment came as U.S. President Barack Obama called for the halt of the militarization of the South China Sea at the close of a meeting with Southeast Asian leaders in California.

Obama pressed for a "halt to reclamation, new construction and militarization" of Asia's oceans, an indirect reference to China's rapid construction in the South China Sea of air strips and ports in the Spratly Islands that could have military uses.

A senior U.S. official told CNN that the decision to deploy while the summit was happening was a "further demonstration of China's attempt to unilaterally change the status quo" in the South China Sea.

China's foreign minister Wang Yi, responding to questions at a press conference Wednesday, didn't deny or confirm the deployment but said he thought it was an attempt by certain Western media to create news.The South China Sea is home to a string of messy territorial disputes, with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam disputing sovereignty of several island chains and nearby waters.

Taiwan called for all parties to the dispute to cooperate.

"Regarding China's military deployment in the region, the Taiwanese Defense calls on cooperation from all parties to safeguard the South China Sea's peace and stability, and avoid any unilateral action that will escalate tension."Other countries around the South China Sea, including Taiwan, have developed islands in the disputed waters, including the construction of airstrips capable of handling military aircraft.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman told reporters Tuesday at a regularly-scheduled briefing that China's developments in the South China Sea were peaceful.

"We've repeatedly stated our stance; the constructions on relevant islands by China are mainly to provide more public service to the international community as well as to facilitate rescue, fishery and medical operations," a ministry spokesman said.

"The relevant facilities will be used by the international community when needed. At the same time, we want to emphasize that the installation of military facilities is for self-defense, a right that China has in accordance with international law. It will not affect the freedom of navigation and overflight that all other countries are entitled to under international law."Ashley Townshend, a visiting fellow at the Center for Asia-Pacific Cooperation and Governance at Shanghai's Fudan University, said China had occupied the island since the 1950s but said deploying the missiles was clearly a "provocation."

He said China briefly deployed fighter jets on the island last year.

"China's presence is tacitly accepted. What's new there is a steep increase in these missile deployments, which gives it more military significance," he said.

"It should be looked at in the strategic perspective of China hardening its presence in the South China Sea."

China's "nine-dash line" -- its claimed territorial waters that extend hundreds of miles to the south and east of its island province of Hainan -- abut its neighbors' claims and, in some cases, encroach upon them.

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