Satellite images showed two batteries of eight surface-to-air HQ-9 missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, the media reported.

According to the images, a beach on the island was empty on February 3, but the missiles were visible by February 14.

A US official said the imagery showed the HQ-9 air defence system with a range of over 200 kilometres, which would pose a threat to any civilian or military airplane flying close by, the report said.

It is the same island where a US Navy destroyer sailed close to another contested island a few weeks ago. Woody Island is part of the Paracels chain, under Chinese control for more than 40 years also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. The missiles arrived over the past week.

The move comes as President Obama hosts 10 Asian leaders in California, many of those concerned over China's recent activity in the South China Sea.

The US will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and will support the right of all countries to do the same, Obama said yesterday, as he called for "tangible steps" to reduce tensions in the disputed and natural resource-rich South China Sea.

In the past two years, China has built over 3,000 acres of territory atop seven reefs in the area. There are a total of three runways built on three of the artificial islands, the report said.

China has said that it has a historical right to all of the South China Sea. Taiwan and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines also claim land features in these potentially resource-rich international shipping lanes.

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