China is building two new lighthouses on artificial islands in the disputed Spratly chain, state media reported, continuing with facility installation to bolster its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
China was "rushing" to complete, by the year end, the construction of two lighthouses on Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross Reef, known in Chinese as Meiji Reef and Yongshu Reef respectively, state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.
The report said the lighthouse located on the east end of Meiji Reef will be 60m in height, making it the tallest of all the structures in the Spratlys.
The more lighthouses and facilities China builds in the Spratlys, "the more equipped we are in fulfilling our international obligations in search and rescue, disaster relief and maritime protection", the report quoted Hainan Maritime Safety Administration deputy director Zhang Jie as saying.
China now operates three lighthouses on artificial islands reclaimed from reefs in the Spratlys. The one on Subi Reef was completed in April, while those on Johnson South and Cuarteron reefs were completed last October.
Lighthouses are part of Beijing's controversial expansion and building of civilian and military facilities in the South China Sea, where it has overlapping territorial claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Chinese media also revealed on Monday the construction of a hospital on Fiery Cross, due to be completed this month and to open soon. China says its construction in the South China Sea, a busy waterway rich in resources, is to fulfil its international obligations.
Analysts say China may have special consideration behind its lighthouse strategy. The facilities, which are likely to be used by foreign states, could augment China's image as a provider of public goods.
"China's construction of lighthouses is meant to add credence to the government's position that the primary purpose of its artificial islands is to provide public goods, such as safety of navigation, and that the military purpose is secondary," said South China Sea expert Ian Storey of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.
It could also be China's belief that use of the lighthouses by foreign ships and references to them in international shipping charts could build a long-term portrayal of Chinese occupation and sovereignty over those islands, others say.
Separately, Taiwanese Vice-Foreign Minister Lee Chen-jan told Parliament on Monday that a ruling by a United Nations arbitration court on a case brought by the Philippines challenging the legality of China's claims was now expected to be out in the middle to end of next month. The ruling had been expected by early this month but new submissions by a Taiwanese law society have delayed it.