CHINA has outlined a greater role for its military in a bid to effectively secure growing interests overseas and highlighted the seas as "critical" for the country's stability and development.
This comes as it announced the building of two lighthouses in the disputed South China Sea, just days after it exchanged barbs with the United States over reclamation works in the waters there.
China said yesterday in a defence White Paper that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy will add the duty of "open seas protection" to "offshore waters defence", while its air force will shift its focus from territorial air defence to both defence and offence.
These measures are being taken as the country faces the "arduous task" of safeguarding national unification, territorial integrity and development interests, said the paper issued by China's State Council, or Cabinet.
"With the constant expansion of the maritime battlefield, it is no longer effective for national maritime safety to just concentrate on the defence of coastal waters," Senior PLA Colonel Wang Jin said at the launch of the White Paper.
The policy document, which is released roughly once every two years, also highlighted the oceans and seas as one of China's four "critical security domains", with the others being the outer space, cyberspace and nuclear force.
It said the "traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned".
While it reiterated a long-held stance that China would continue to pursue a security policy that is defensive in nature, the White Paper hit out at foreign countries "busy meddling" in South China Sea affairs, and neighbouring nations that take "provocative" actions on China's reefs and islands.
Tensions were raised last week after the US hit out at China's increasing reclamation works in the South China Sea. China claims most of the South China Sea but the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.
The US warned it could test China's territorial claims by venturing to within 12 nautical miles of the islands - the standard territorial zone around natural land.
The PLA insisted that the timing of the White Paper's release had "nothing to do with ongoing developments". The document is a declaration of China's security policy to the international community and advocates security cooperation with the rest of the world, said PLA spokesman Yang Yujun.
But when asked about China's reclamation works in the South China Sea, Colonel Yang compared it to the construction of homes, bridges and roads on its mainland. From a sovereignty point of view, "there is no difference", he said.
Defying calls to halt building activities, China's Ministry of Transport yesterday hosted a ground- breaking ceremony for the construction of two 50m-tall lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef, also known as Cuateron and Johnson South reefs, on the disputed Spratly islands.
The Foreign Ministry said such construction was meant to facilitate activities such as maritime search and rescue.
Separately, Taiwan yesterday proposed a so-called South China Sea Peace Initiative, which calls on claimants to temporarily shelve disagreements to enable negotiations on sharing resources.