BEIJING (AP) — China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday reasserted Beijing's right to develop its South China Sea island outposts following a U.S. think tank's report that China has built new radar facilities in the disputed Spratly Islands.
Citing commercial satellite imagery, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, said the radars on the outposts of Gaven, Hughes, Johnson South and Cuarteron reefs could be key to helping China establish effective control over the strategically vital area's sea and airspace.
China has been building islands on top of reefs and atolls it controls, then adding air strips, harbors and other infrastructure that would help consolidate its control. Five other governments also hold maritime claims that overlap with Beijing's, and the U.S. has said it is concerned about China's militarization of the area.
Beijing rejects the accusations, saying it is merely installing defensive measures on islands, primarily for civilian purposes.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no specific information about the CSIS report, but said China had undisputed sovereignty over the area.
"It's within China's sovereignty to carry out constructions on its own territories," Hua told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference. "By deploying some necessary defensive facilities on the relevant islands and reefs it defends in the South China Sea, China is exercising the right of self-preservation that every country enjoys according to international law, which is beyond reproach."
Hua reiterated charges that international media were paying too little attention to China's construction of lighthouses, weather stations, fishermen's shelters and other civilian infrastructure that Beijing portrays as public goods and services for the benefit of the international community.
She said China's pursuit of peaceful development and good neighborly relations shouldn't be called into question. "China wants to make joint efforts with each side to keep the South China Sea peaceful and stable," Hua said.
CSIS said the new radars would significantly bolster China's ability to keep an eye on ship and aircraft traffic in the southern portion of the South China Sea, complementing its monitoring of the sea's northern areas from existing facilities.
"Improved radar coverage is an important piece of the puzzle — along with improved air defenses and greater reach for Chinese aircraft — toward China's goals of establishing effective control over the sea and airspace" throughout China's South China Sea claims, the CSIS report said.
The report comes a week after it was revealed that Beijing had deployed surface-to-air missiles on an island in the Paracel group, northwest of the Spratlys. The U.S. said the presence of missiles provided increasing evidence of militarization of the area by China.
China subsequently accused the U.S. of militarizing the region, saying patrols by U.S. Navy vessels and military aircraft had escalated tensions and raised concerns about stability in the area.
The South China Sea and ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula are expected to dominate talks starting Tuesday in the U.S. between Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
In an editorial Tuesday, China's official Xinhua News Agency said divisions over Korea and the South China Sea had been "amplified thanks partly to Washington's hidden agendas and recklessness."
"It is also noteworthy that it is Washington that is fanning up the flames by flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and by emboldening nations in their territorial disputes with China," the editorial said.