China has installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its heavily fortified outposts in the South China Sea.
US Intelligence reports say the missiles were moved onto the Spratly Islands at some point in the past 30 days, most probably during recent military drills.
The missile platforms were deployed to Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, between Vietnam and the Philippines, in an area where six nations, including China, claim sovereignty.
The White House has warned China that it will not accept the continued military build-up in the hotly contested region.
“We’re well-aware of China’s militarisation of the South China Sea,” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “There will be near-term and long-term consequences.”
Sanders would not be drawn by reporters on what form those consequences might take.
The Pentagon has “also weighed in on the development”, says CNBC.
US Defence Department spokesperson Dana White said: “China has to realise that they have benefited from the free navigation of the sea and the US Navy has been the guarantor of that.”
China has defended the installation of the missiles, saying they are “necessary national defence facilities”, CNN reports.
“The relevant deployment targets no one,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. “Anyone with no invasive intention will find no reason to worry about this.”