Construction begins on lighthouses on disputed island in South China Sea

MAY 27 (Reuters) — Chinese state television showed footage of a groundbreaking ceremony for the building of two lighthouses in the disputed waters of the South China Sea on Tuesday (May 26).

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 Spratlys islands on Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua said, defying calls from the United States and the Philippines for a freeze on such activity.

The reefs are known in English as Cuateron Reef and Johnson South Reef.

State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of workers and officials from the Ministry of Transportation digging up sand at the location where one of the lighthouses is to be built.

Although CCTV did not name the exact location for where the ground breaking ceremony took place, it reported that the island was part of the Spratly Islands.

Xinhua said the lighthouses are being built “to improve the navigation safety in the South China Sea”. It did not elaborate.

The Ministry of Transport did not answer calls for comment.

The move is likely to escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing’s maritime ambitions.

Last year, the Philippines accused China of reclaiming land on Johnson South Reef, apparently to build an airstrip.

China lays claim to 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.

In recent weeks, the United States has clashed with China over Beijing’s construction activities in the South China Sea. The Pentagon believes the work is aimed at cementing China’s claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea – an area thought to have significant energy reserves and rich fishing grounds.

Washington is particularly concerned that China may at some point declare an exclusion zone in the sea that could limit free movement of ships and aircraft.

On Monday (May 25), China’s foreign ministry said it had lodged a complaint with the United States over a U.S. spy plane that flew over parts of the South China Sea.

The Philippines’ defense minister said on Monday that Manila was seeking a “stronger commitment” from the United States to help its ally with activities in the South China Sea.

Beijing says the South China Sea issue should be resolved by direct talks between those involved and has bristled at what it sees as unwarranted U.S. interference.