BEIJING • China's construction in the South China Sea has transformed some islands in the Spratlys into well-equipped bases, a military newspaper has claimed.
The disputed Spratly island chain now boasts airports, hospitals and even 4G coverage, reported the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Daily earlier this week.
In what appeared to be another attempt to bolster China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, the PLA Daily on Monday shared via its Weibo account pictures of recent developments on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys. They included a lighthouse and a new hospital.
Fiery Cross Reef, or Yongshu Reef in Chinese, is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. According to some estimates, China's dredging and reclamation efforts have increased the size of Fiery Cross Reef by 11 times. It has eclipsed Itu Aba, or Taiping Island, as the largest island in the Spratlys.
Chinese experts told newspapers that civilian facilities, such as a newly opened hospital, will benefit local residents and soldiers stationed at the disputed islands as well as foreign fishermen and merchant vessels plying one of the world's busiest waterways for trade.
The new facilities will service every country around the South China Sea and ships crossing the region, Mr Liu Feng, an expert on South China Sea studies, was quoted as saying by the Global Times.
The completion of the 16,000 sq m hospital on Fiery Cross Reef will give Chinese residents and those aboard merchant vessels in the surrounding waters quicker access to medical services during emergencies, experts say.
Professor Zhou Wei from Hainan University told China Daily the new hospital "shows China's role as a responsible nation".
China also recently completed the construction of lighthouses on Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef, bringing the total number of lighthouses in the Spratlys to five.
China has said that the lighthouses, though partly for military purposes, will serve the public by providing meteorological information for rescue operations as well as helping fishermen to find their way home.