BEIJING - China is focused on the establishment of civil infrastructure on islands in the South China Sea rather than military installations, and will expand land reclamation activities, according to Chinese experts.
"Most of the construction on islands in the South China Sea was completed in 2015 and the pace then slowed. Civilian facility construction is the major focus of the South China Sea islands building and the portion of defence deployment is relatively small," Mr Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the National Institute for the South China Sea, told the Global Times on Monday (Feb 5).
Mr Chen said some of the islands were likely to be expanded in future through more dredgging.
He also noted that the easing of tensions between China and South-east Asian countries such as the Philippines had provided a golden opportunity for China to upgrade these areas.
According to another expert, Dr Zhuang Guotu, the head of Xiamen University's Southeast Asian Studies Centre, foreign media was hyping China's construction in the South China Sea.
"China has the right to build whatever it needs within its territory," Dr Zhuang said, adding that China's military deployments in the South China Sea were to defend its security and interests, rather than military expansion.
Both Dr Zhuang and Mr Chen warned that the US was the biggest threat to stability in the South China Sea .
"The US, Australia, Japan and other allies will constantly provoke China over this issue and that will incite other neighbouring South China Sea countries to do the same," Dr Zhuang said.
US guided missile destroyer USS Hopper came within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, also known as Huangyan Island, in January, according to reports.
China's South China Sea construction projects covered about 290,000 square metres in 2017, according to a report released in December on a website run by the National Marine Data and Information Service and the People's Daily Overseas edition.
That included new facilities for underground storage, administrative buildings and large radars.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer published a report on Sunday that indicated that China has almost finished transforming seven reefs in the South China Sea into "island fortresses" with a view to "dominate" the South China Sea.
Singapore Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan told The Straits Times last week that the South China Sea was "much more calm now". Singapore has said it will help broker talks on a maritime code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman Geng Shuang said on Monday that Dr Balakrishnan's remarks reflect China's cooperation with the Asean bloc on maintaining regional peace and stability.