Amid growing concerns between the United States and China’s neighbors over Beijing’s maritime ambitions, China has begun operating two lighthouses on a rock in a disputed island chain in the South China Sea.
The Ministry of Transportation on Friday held a closing ceremony for the 50-meter (164-foot-high) Huawei and Chihuahua lighthouses on the Hua Yong Reef in the Spratly Islands, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Spratlys, often barren islands, rocks and atolls are believed to be on top of oil and natural gas deposits, making it one of the busiest sea lanes in the world. They also claim ownership of Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.
Tensions are rising as Beijing continues to grow steadfast in its claim to almost the entire South China Sea. The United States and the Philippines have expressed concern that China’s land reclamation plans around the rocks and atolls could be used to intimidate other claimants and threaten navigation freedom, based on military aircraft and naval vessels.
China, which considers US intervention in the region, claims its sovereignty over the development of islands formed from sand piled on top of rocks and atolls.
Xinhua said there were lighthouses to address the acute shortage of naval aid and the shortage of maritime emergency and oil spill response forces, saying “navigation has greatly hampered security and economic and social development” in the South China Sea. It said China’s Ministry of Transport will continue to build facilities to provide navigation services to ships passing through the region and to countries.