The Age, 28 May 2015. China puts weapons on its new artificial islands, by John Garnaut, David Wroe.

Below is an edited extract of the original article.

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.

Already, diplomats have dropped “talking points” about Australia not taking sides in the multi-layered territorial contest, which Chinese officials have used as evidence of Australian support…

Late on Wednesday, Australia’s top defence official, Dennis Richardson, brought Canberra’s growing concerns into public view by telling a Sydney forum that China’s “unprecedented” land reclamations raise questions of “intent” and risks of “miscalculation”.

“It is legitimate to ask the purpose of the land reclamation – tourism appears unlikely,” said Mr Richardson, delivering the annual Blamey Oration at the New South Wales state Parliament.

“Given the size and modernisation of China’s military, the use by China of land reclamation for military purposes would be of particular concern,” he said…

Australian military officers and officials have discussed a need to demonstrate that they do not recognise any 12-mile territorial zone or more expansive economic zone that China may unilaterally claim around its freshly-minted islands. But they are grappling with the need to avoid inflaming a potential confrontation Australia’s largest trading partner…

Related news stories

Papers by Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.