China has announced in a military strategy white paper that the nation has extensive plans to ramp up its military activity in the disputed South China Sea, much to the concern of regional adversaries like the Philippines and the U.S. However, China is also planning on building several civil and public facilities on various islands and reefs.
To China, the construction of such sites is not a way of solidifying its claims on the territory because there is no dispute.
“The Nansha Islands is China’s territory,” Ouyang Yujing, the director general of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in an interview with the China Daily. “This position has adequate historical and legal basis. There is no need to have it strengthened through construction activities on relevant islands and reefs.”
Though China may not see the new construction as a way of flexing muscle to control the area, the rhetoric used by Ouyang suggests otherwise.
“One of the most important purposes of China’s construction activities on the islands and reefs is to fulfill her relevant international responsibilities and obligations,” Ouyang said. Such responsibilities include, among other things, “maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine scientific research.”
“To that end, it is necessary to build runway, pier, telecommunication, meteorological, navigation safety, and environmental observation facilities,” Ouyang said.
Though China is positioning the facilities for open use by the public with the purpose of maintaining regional peace and stability, because they will be Chinese-made sites, it asserts a position of control over who can use facilities and says it can limit the purpose for which they are used. “When conditions are ripe, China will invite relevant countries and international organizations to use relevant facilities for cooperation in maritime search and rescue as well as in other areas.”
“China will make overall plans about what facilities to open to the international community based on comprehensive planning after the completion of development.”
The plans for new facilities follows the announcement yesterday that two lighthouses would also be constructed on reefs in the Nansha Islands to serve vessels navigating through the waters wishing to avoid maritime traffic accidents.
If previous work in the area is any indication, China will likely erect the new structures in record time. China has already made headway in building structures in the South China Sea. Late last year, it was revealed that Beijing had set in motion a dredging operation near the Spratly Islands for the purpose of creating controversial man-made islands for China’s military. Over a period of just 11 months, satellite images of the area showed a 3,000-meter-long (9,842-foot-long) island that also had an airstrip.