U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday the United States expects to have "very serious" talks with China about militarization of the South China Sea after reports that Beijing deployed advanced surface-to-air missiles to a disputed island.
Taiwan's Defense Ministry said the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island in the Paracels chain, which has been under Chinese control for decades but also is claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
A U.S. defence official also confirmed the "apparent deployment" of the missiles, first reported by Fox News.
"There is every evidence, every day that there has been an increase of militarization of one kind or another," Kerry told reporters when asked about the reported deployment. "It’s of serious concern.
"We have had these conversations with the Chinese and I am confident that over the next days we will have further very serious conversation on this."
The United States claims no territory in the South China Sea but has expressed serious concerns about how China's increasingly assertive pursuit of territorial claims there could affect the vital global trade routes that pass though it.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters the "limited and necessary self-defence facilities" China had on islands and reefs where it has personnel stationed was "consistent with the right to self-protection that China is entitled to under international law."
The Chinese Defense Ministry told Reuters the latest reports about missile deployment were nothing but "hype."
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
News of the missile deployment came as U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations concluded a summit in California, where they discussed the need to ease tensions in the South China Sea.
It also followed a patrol by a U.S. Navy destroyer within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels last month, a move China condemned as provocative.