China breaks ground on lighthouse project in South China Sea

It comes as the defence ministry issued a report reaffirming China’s more assertive approach to national defence, and will likely escalate tensions in the region over Beijing's territorial claims in the area.

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BEIJING // China hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the building of two lighthouses in the disputed South China Sea, state media said on Tuesday.

The move will likely escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing’s maritime ambitions, and comes as the defence ministry issued a report reaffirming China’s more assertive approach to national defence.

The document on China’s military strategy said the navy would be adding “open seas protection” to traditional remit of “offshore waters defence” while boosting its ability to counterattack and conduct joint operations at sea.

The air force, meanwhile, will “endeavor to shift its focus from territorial air defense to both defence and offense,” said the 25-page report, which was issued in English and Chinese at a rare news conference presided over by uniformed officers.

China’s ministry of transport hosted the ceremony for the construction of two multi-functional lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef on the disputed Spratly islands, state news agency Xinhua said on Tuesday, defying calls from the United States and the Philippines for a freeze on such activity.

China’s construction in the region was to facilitate activities such as maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection and navigational security, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

She said that China would continue to build other installations in the Spratly Islands to better serve countries in the region and vessels navigating those waters.

Last week, a Chinese navy dispatcher warned off a US Navy P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft as it flew over Fiery Cross Reef, where China has conducted extensive reclamation work.

The incident prompted an editorial on Monday in the official Communist Party newspaper Global Times that warned that Washington should not test Beijing's restraint or China would have "no choice but to engage".

The same day, China’s foreign ministry lodged a complaint with Washington over a US spy plane that flew over parts of the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

* Reuters and Associated Press