New China lighthouse up on disputed reef
BEIJING—China has expanded its presence in the contested South China Sea by switching on a lighthouse atop a reconstructed reef also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, Chinese state media said.
The 55-meter-high lighthouse on Zamora Reef (international name: Subi Reef) in the Spratly archipelago contains technology to monitor passing ships, the official Xinhua news agency reported late Tuesday.
China claims virtually all of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, despite conflicting claims by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
Beijing has constructed artificial islands in the area in recent months as it asserts its claims.
One of those artificial islands is built on Zamora Reef, which the Chinese call Zhubi Reef. Recent satellite photos have shown China has reclaimed nearly 400 hectares of land on the reef.
The island-building has been condemned by neighbors and the United States, but Beijing insists it is aimed at helping with maritime search and rescue.
Chinese transport officials held a ceremony on Zamora on Tuesday, Xinhua said.
Pictures showed men in white shirts beside the towering structure next to a sign reading “Lights-on ceremony.”
Construction of the lighthouse began in October, according to Xinhua.
Washington regularly accuses Beijing of militarizing the Spratlys by building runways and deploying unspecified weapons on the artificial islands it has built in the area.
Beijing denies the accusations and says US patrols have ramped up tensions in the region.
Citing an obligation to uphold freedom of navigation, Washington last year sent the USS Lassen to sail past Zamora Reef, a move that angered Beijing.
Xinhua reported last year that China would build two 50-meter-tall lighthouses on Calderon (Cuarteron) and Johnson South (Mabini) reefs in the Spratly islands, both also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam.
Both Manila and Hanoi have protested China’s building lighthouses on the two reefs and analysts have said navigation by foreign vessels by the lighthouses would mean recognition of China’s sovereignty over the area.
Beijing has rejected the protests, saying any construction on the reefs is within its rights as it has “undisputed sovereignty” over the Spratlys, which it calls Nansha Islands.
The state-run China Daily newspaper reported in 2014 that Beijing would build five new lighthouses in the South China Sea’s Paracels chain, claimed by Vietnam.
Law of the sea
Before Chinese dredging turned it into an island, Zamora was submerged at high tide. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 22-kilometer limits cannot be set around man-made islands built on previously submerged reefs.
The Philippines has challenged China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea at the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, angering China, which has said it will not recognize any ruling by the tribunal.
The court has proceeded to hear the case, however, and is expected to hand down a ruling in coming weeks.
China says much of its construction in the South China Sea is designed to fulfill its international obligations of ensuring maritime safety, search and rescue and scientific research.
Asked about the lighthouse, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China was dedicated to providing public services in the South China Sea to ensure safety and freedom of navigation, which would be helpful for commercial users of the waters.
Xinhua said the lighthouse on Zamora Reef, which emits a white light at night, “can provide efficient navigation services such as positioning reference, route guidance and navigation safety information to ships, which can improve navigation management and emergency response.”
The South China Sea is an important maritime area and major fishing ground, it added.
“However, high traffic density, complex navigation condition, severe shortage in aids and response forces have combined to threaten navigation safety and hindered economic and social development in the region,” it said. Reports from the wires