China's defence ministry says deployment of defensive military equipment on the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea is legitimate and lawful.

A satellite image shows what CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says appears to be anti-aircraft guns and what are likely to be close-in weapons systems on the artificial island Subi Reef in the South China Sea, December 13, 2016.
A satellite image shows what CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says appears to be anti-aircraft guns and what are likely to be close-in weapons systems on the artificial island Subi Reef in the South China Sea, December 13, 2016.

China appears to have installed weapons on artificial islands in the South China Sea. A US think tank has published images which appear to show anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems on the islands.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has been monitoring the developments for six months. Beijing previously said it had no intention to militarise the territory.

China's deployment of what it called "defensive" military equipment on the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea was "legitimate and lawful," its defence ministry said on Thursday.

Speaking at a regular press briefing, China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the deployment of weapons had "nothing to do with militarisation."

The dispute over the South China Sea is decades old. China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all claim parts of the region, which spans almost 3.5 million square kilometres.

In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that there was no legal basis for China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, a verdict Beijing dismissed.

TRT World's Dan Epstein has more.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies