As its neighbors, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam condemn China’s building of artificial islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese transport ministry held a “completion ceremony,” last Wednesday marking the operations of a 180-foot lighthouse on Subi Reef- known as Zhubi in China. China claims most of the South China Sea, where about $5 trillion in trade passes annually. Last October, the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed within twelve nautical miles of Subi Reef, to which China called the action “extremely irresponsible.”
China has called its operations in the South China Sea necessary to fulfill its international obligations in terms of maritime safety, search and rescue, and scientific research. The lighthouse, which began construction last October, “can provide efficient navigation services such as positioning reference, route guidance, and navigation safety information to ships, which can improve navigation management and emergency response,” the Chinese news agency Xinhua said last Tuesday.
U.S. defense and state department officials have accused Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea; China denies the accusations, but admits to building runways and deploying unspecified weapons to the artificial islands. The Associated Press reports that the Defense Department will join Philippine and Australian troops in combat drills to “prepare to quickly respond to a range of potential crises, including in the disputed South China Sea.” Japan and Indonesia will also hold their own military exercise in the region, with Japan sending a destroyer to the region between April 12-16.
The Subi Reef lighthouse is the third to be operated by China in the South China Sea. Last October, China completed construction of two lighthouses on Cuateron Reef and Johnson South Reef.