BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s foreign ministry has defended the government’s decision to build lighthouses on disputed islands in the South China Sea, saying they were being built to facilitate navigation.
State media reported on Thursday that China was planning to build lighthouses on five islands in the South China Sea, known in English as North Reef, Antelope Reef, Drummond Island, South Sand and Pyramid Rock, including two that appear to be in waters also claimed by Vietnam.
Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement posted on the foreign ministry website late on Friday that the lighthouses were “necessary measures to guarantee the safety of vessel traffic” and was both in the public interest and compliant with international law.
The U.S. and the Philippines have called for a voluntary freeze on any status-quo changing moves by disputants in the area, but China has rejected the proposal.
Washington is also attempting to use this weekend’s ASEAN regional forum in Myanmar to lobby Southeast Asian foreign ministers to pressure China to come to the negotiating table.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea and has begun to aggressively enforce its territorial claims.
In May, China moved an oil rig into water disputed by Vietnam backed up by a flotilla of warships and fishing boats, which resulted in a Vietnamese fishing vessel being sunk and anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.
The Philippines has also accused China of building a landing strip on a shoal it claims is part of its territory.
China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his counterparts from some southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, on the sidelines of the summit in Myanmar.
Wang told Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh that the China would take “all necessary means to safeguard national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests” and urged Vietnam to properly deal with the aftermath of the anti-Chinese riots, according to the report.
Reporting by Pete Sweeney; Editing by Jeremy Laurence