China starts operating lighthouses on South China Sea reef in disputed island chain

By on October 11, 2015


This handout photo taken on March 17, 2015 by satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe and released to AFP by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSSI) think tank shows a satellite image of vessels purportedly dredging sand at Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea.  The series of satellite images posted on the website of the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week show a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto Mischief Reef and the resulting land spreading in size. Beijing on April 9 reaffirmed its right to build on the disputed islands after the satellite imagery emerged of construction operations turning tropical reefs into concrete artificial islands. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have overlapping claims in the area. (AFP Photo / CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / DigitalGlobe)
This handout photo taken on March 17, 2015 by satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe and released to AFP by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative department at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSSI) think tank shows a satellite image of vessels purportedly dredging sand at Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea. The series of satellite images posted on the website of the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week show a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand onto Mischief Reef and the resulting land spreading in size. Beijing on April 9 reaffirmed its right to build on the disputed islands after the satellite imagery emerged of construction operations turning tropical reefs into concrete artificial islands. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have overlapping claims in the area. (AFP Photo / CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / DigitalGlobe)

BEIJING — China has started operating two lighthouses on a reef on a disputed island chain in the South China Sea, a state news agency reported, amid rising concerns among the U.S. and China’s neighbours about Beijing’s maritime ambitions.

The Ministry of Transport held a completion ceremony Friday for the 50-meter-high (164-foot-high) Huayang and Chigua lighthouses on Huayang Reef in the Spratly Islands, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Spratlys, mostly barren islands, reefs and atolls that are believed to be atop oil and natural gas deposits, straddle one of the world’s busiest sea lanes. They are also claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.

Tensions have been rising as Beijing has grown more assertive about its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. The U.S. and the Philippines have expressed concern that China’s land reclamation projects around reefs and atolls could be used to base military planes and navy ships to intimidate other claimants and threaten freedom of navigation, and have called for a freeze on such activity.

China has bristled at what it sees as U.S. interference in the region and says it is within its sovereign rights in developing islands made from sand piled on top of reefs and atolls.

Xinhua said the lighthouses were meant to address a severe shortage in navigational aids, as well as shortages in maritime emergency and oil-spill response forces, that “has immensely hindered the navigational safety and economic and social development” in the South China Sea. It said China’s transport ministry would continue to construct facilities to provide passing vessels and countries in the region with navigational services.