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 (CIWS) on the artificial island Johnson Reef in the South China Sea in this image released on December 13, 2016. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe/Handout via REUTERS

Latest satellite images revealed by Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) have exposed “significant” defence weapons installed on artificial islands of South China Sea, affirmed a Washington think-tank on Wednesday.

What do the images show?

The images show that hexagonal structures are placed on seven islets that Beijing has created in the Spratly Islands in recent years. According to AMTI, part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, these structures are anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems (CIWS).

“These gun and probable CIWS emplacements show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea,” AMTI said in a statement. “Among other things, they would be the last line of defence against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases,” it added.

China earlier assured that it would not militarise these outposts

China insisted quite a lot of times in the past that it will not militarise the contested waters of the South China Sea. However, the recently released images show a different side to the claims that were made by China in the past.

The South China Sea dispute

The territorial rights of the South China Sea has been a brewing issue for many years. Several countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia have all claimed the waters that are believed to be significant deposits of oil and gas, and comprising of vital shipping routes.

US-China war over South China Sea

The territorial claims are one of the reasons for Beijing and Washington’s dispute. The US argued that China’s territorial claims had no basis under the international law. Henceforth, the US military conducted many "freedom of navigation" operations in the past, in which a number of ships and planes passed close to the Beijing claimed sites.

Is China ready for war?

AMTI director Greg Poling stated that his team has been trying to figure the purpose of these structures from a very long time. “This is the first time that we're confident in saying they are anti-aircraft and CIWS emplacements,” he said. “This is militarisation. The Chinese can argue that it's only for defensive purposes, but if you are building giant anti-aircraft gun and CIWS emplacements, it means that you are prepping for a future conflict.”

US President-elect Donald Trump also asserted in the past that he would take strict measures against China’s behaviour in the South China Sea, which apparently now reflects that China is ready for war.