China building more lighthouses on disputed South China Sea reefs

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China has begun operating two new lighthouses and plans to build more on disputed islands in the South China Sea, state media announced Saturday.

The Transport Ministry held a ceremony for the 50-metre lighthouses on Huayang Reef of the Spratly Islands, which China calls Nansha and claims sovereignty over, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The ministry will continue constructing facilities for navigation aids, emergency response and lifesaving, Xinhua said, to provide “regional countries and all passing vessels with navigation services, aiming at forging a safety chain and network in the region.”

The Foreign Ministry expressed “serious concern” Friday over reports that the US is considering sending warships inside the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit of the disputed islands.

Beijing and Washington disagree on the land reclamation and reef construction projects in the South China Sea, which President Xi Jinping declared “China’s territory.”

US President Barack Obama reiterated support for the territorial claims of its regional allies including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines in the South China and East China Seas.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, a key shipping lane with overlapping claims to its potentially rich mineral resources by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

The US stands ready to assist the Philippines if its sovereignty is challenged in the South China Sea, an US Marine Corps official said Thursday.

Brigadier General Paul Kennedy said in Manila that the US would respond “within a matter of hours” if necessary to protect its allies, stressing that it was “not a hollow promise.”

US legislators last month called for a more robust response after satellite images appeared to show a third Chinese airstrip being built on a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

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