China does not seek to change the existing status of territorial claims in the South China Sea with its newly built lighthouses, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, arguing that Beijing already had “indisputable sovereignty” in the contested waters.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes every year. But neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have overlapping claims.
On Monday, the Philippines’ foreign ministry said the lighthouses were “obviously intended to change actual conditions” and that Manila would not accept China’s “unilateral actions as a fait accompli“.
China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defended the structures as “completely within China’s sovereignty” and said they had no relation to “some people’s” comments that China was trying to bolster its hold over the islands.
“I want to stress that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha islands and surrounding waters,” Hua said, using the Chinese name for the Spratlys. “We absolutely do not need to build lighthouses to strengthen our sovereignty claims.”
She added, “There is no issue of changing the status quo.”
The United States, which has criticized China’s building on artificial islands, has said it would sail or fly wherever international law allows.
While the US and other navies mostly rely on electronic instruments to confirm their ships’ positions, visual fixes from lighthouses are still used in certain conditions.
References to the lighthouses are likely to find their way into international shipping charts and registers and the logbooks of foreign navies.
Experts say that could help China to build a long-term legal picture of effective occupation, despite any formal diplomatic objections of rival claimants.
China defends action
China defended the actions of its air force on Tuesday after Japan said it scrambled fighter jets to prevent possible incursions by Chinese planes a record high number of times this summer.
Japan jets scrambled 117 times from July to September, up from 103 in the same period of last year, although it was lower than the all-time high of 164 times recorded in the final quarter of 2014.
“The actions of China’s aircraft in the airspace over the relevant sea are justified and legal,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
“We call on Japan to cease all interfering actions targeting China and make constructive efforts to safeguard China-Japan relations and regional peace and stability.”
Japan has long been mired in a territorial dispute with China over a group of tiny, uninhabited East China Sea islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Patrol ships and fighter jets from Asia’s two biggest economies have been shadowing each other on and off near the islets, raising fears that a confrontation could result in a clash.
Sino-Japanese ties, also plagued by the two countries’ wartime past, concerns over Tokyo’s bolder security stance and Beijing’s increasing military assertiveness, have thawed a little in the last year.