Is China undermining freedom of navigation in South China Sea?

Updated: 2015-05-27 19:39


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BEIJING -- It seems absurd two lighthouses in the South China Sea could evoke worry about the situation in the waters. But that is how it happened, days after the United States made close reconnaissance in the region.

Many believe the projects, together with other infrastructure construction, show China's muscle and will undermine the freedom of navigation in the waters of the region.

But such rhetoric could be proved groundless by the truth and the real situation of the region.

China's Ministry of Transport on Tuesday began construction of two lighthouses on Huayang and Chigua reefs in the Nansha Islands. The two 50-meter lighthouses are designed to have a light range of 22 nautical miles.

Can the lighthouses attack passing vessels? Or can the lighthouses only serve passing Chinese ships but not foreign ones?

The answer goes without saying. As sea and weather conditions in South China Sea are quite complicated, lighthouses and other projects can facilitate the people in many aspects, including maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, scientific research, navigation security, meteorological observation and other services.

Safety is the most important issue for navigation. With those facilities, passing ships can be safer, and if they encounter dangers, they will be saved in much shorter time, no matter which countries they are from. It will also be China's contributions to the international community in peaceful use of the waters.

Islands and reefs in the South China Sea are China's indispensable territory. Building facilities there is no different than construction projects in the mainland, because they are all within the sovereignty of the country.

China is also building military facilities on some islets and reefs. However, as defense ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun said Tuesday, all the military facilities are defensive in nature, targeting no other parties.

If those military facilities make someone worry, the only reason is that they are over-sensitive. In a bid to provide services to passing ships, scientific studies and other activities, those facilities in almost unpopulated areas must have defensive capacities.

Will they make navigation unfree? Before answering this question, one should understand what is freedom of navigation. Is it the close reconnaissance flight conducted by U.S. military aircraft?

China always supports freedom of navigation in South China Sea, in accordance with international law and practices. The passage of foreign military aircraft and vessels are never welcome in any country's territorial waters.

The newly-issued China's national defense white paper warned of threats to China's maritime rights and interests, citing the provocative actions of some offshore neighbors, including reinforced, and illegal military presence in Chinese territory, and outside parties involving themselves in South China Sea affairs.

Lighthouses and defensive military facilities can only facilitate freedom of navigation. Isn't it making a fuss to doubt the issue?