China reveals more on work in disputed sea

This comes as Japan says reclamation does not make ownership a done deal

BEIJING - The Chinese government has rolled out more details of the building work it is undertaking in the disputed South China Sea, listing lighthouses, communications stations and other facilities for civilian and emergency use.

The announcement came as Japan warned China yesterday that its extensive land reclamation in the disputed sea does not make ownership "a done deal", after Beijing declared earlier it had almost finished its controversial island-building in the maritime heart of South-east Asia.

China stepped up its creation of artificial islands last year, alarming several countries in Asia and drawing criticism from Washington.

There have been recent tensions between the Chinese navy and the United States military around the Spratlys.

China, which on Tuesday said some of the reclamation work will be completed soon, says the construction on the islands will help with maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection and offer navigational assistance, as well as have undefined military purposes.

The country's top planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said in a short statement yesterday that it had drawn up a plan for the use of civil facilities on the Spratly Islands.

These facilities would help improve living conditions there and also fulfil China's international obligations on environmental monitoring, disaster relief and navigational safety, the NDRC said.

Large lighthouses for navigation are included in the building plan, along with base stations for wireless navigation equipment, weather stations to monitor for tsunamis, scientific research stations and equipment to tackle oil spills, it added.

Facilities will also be provided for the supply of search and rescue ships. There will also be places for fishing boats to seek shelter from storms and undergo repairs, the NDRC said, though it did not specifically mention what sort of harbours or docks would be built.

In order to protect the environment, waste water and garbage handling facilities will also be built, the NDRC said.

It did not provide a timeframe for when these facilities would be completed. It also did not name the specific islands they were being built on.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$6.7 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Recent satellite images have shown a hive of work on China's new islands. US officials say China has reclaimed about 600ha of land this year alone.

Military facilities under construction include a 3,000m runway and airborne early warning radar, which could be operational by year end, according to one US commander.

Japan has long criticised China's attempts to change the status quo of the South China Sea unilaterally and by force, mindful of its own dispute with Beijing over islands in the East China Sea.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'China reveals more on work in disputed sea'. Subscribe