Beijing continues to consolidate its maritime ambitions in the South China Sea, detailing a new plan to boost its "open seas protection" in disputed regional territory on the same day it held a groundbreaking ceremony for two lighthouses it built in the area.
China's Ministry of Defense Tuesday released a report outlining its plans to move away from a policy of air defense to a combined offensive and defensive approach. The strategic shift is intended to ward off "provocative actions" by others against areas China claims, which include Islands, reefs, and the reclaimed land where China has been building facilities close to the Spratly archipelago, Reuters reported.
The lighthouses are among the first facilities intended for civilian use, shoring up China's claims over an area that includes commercial shipping lanes through which some $5 trillion worth of trade passes annually.
The 25-page military report, which was unveiled at a rare press conference, detailed China's new strategy to advance its ability to counterattack and execute joint-operations at sea. The country's air force will also "shift its focus from territorial air defense to both defense and offense," the report said.
"China faces many complex maritime security threats and challenges and requires a navy that can carry out multifaceted missions and protect its sovereignty," Wang Jin, a senior colonel, told reporters at the conference.
The report came just a few days after Beijing accused Washington of sending a spy plane to fly over territory China claims in the area. Though China has declared that most of the South China Sea falls under its jurisdiction, the region is fiercely contested by neighboring Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, and Vietnam.
China is estimated to be creating around 2,000 acres of artificial land, prompting fears in the US that China is engaging in increasingly aggressive military posturing in the region, and could potentially be building military facilities on the man-made land which could house missile defense systems and service its air force.
Chinese officials have hit back at what they call US meddling in regional affairs. After the US spy plane was discovered on May 20, the Chinese navy reportedly told the US P-8A Poseidon aircraft to "please go away" via radio transmission after it was detected flying over reclaimed land.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters Tuesday that the country's reclamation project in the South China Sea amounted to nothing more than routine construction taking place elsewhere in China.
"Every day all around China, there are all kinds of construction projects being started [such as] building homes, paving roads, building bridges, opening new farm land, etc.," Yang said, according to a translation by the Associated Press.
"Looking from the angle of sovereignty, China's development of construction on its islands is no different at all from all the other types of construction going on around the country that I just mentioned."
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