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China to build lighthouses on five isles in defiance of U.S. call

BEIJING (Reuters) - China plans to build lighthouses on five islands in the South China Sea, state media reported on Thursday, in defiance of calls from the United States and the Philippines for a freeze on such activity to ease tension over rival claims.

At least two of the islands upon which China said it will put up lighthouses appear to be in waters also claimed by Vietnam.

Overlapping claims in the South China Sea have fueled confrontation in recent months with China, which claims 90 percent of the sea, at odds with Vietnam and the Philippines in particular.

The state-run China News Service said Chinese authorities had been surveying sites for lighthouses on five islands, known in English as North Reef, Antelope Reef, Drummond Island, South Sand and Pyramid Rock.

The survey began on July 27, and "as of Aug. 4 construction sites and alternative locations for lighthouses on the five islands and reefs had been initially decided upon", the news service said, quoting a Chinese navigation official.

Drummond Island and Pyramid Rock are in the China-controlled Paracel Islands - more than 100 small coral islands and reefs also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

It was not clear whether the other three islets where lighthouses will be built are also in disputed waters.

The proposal to freeze activities that could stir tension in the sea, such as building installations and exploiting resources, was put forward by the United States last month and taken up by the Philippines.

Southeast Asian foreign ministers are holding a conference in Myanmar this weekend which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will join.

Kerry will press for a voluntary freeze on actions in the sea aggravating disputes, a U.S. official said this week, but China has already rejected the proposal. A senior Chinese official said on Monday China could build whatever it wanted to on its islands.

The South China Sea is believed to contain oil and gas deposits and has bountiful fisheries. As well as China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the sea, through which passes about $5 trillion of trade a year.

Explaining the need for the lighthouses, the China News Service cited the navigation official as saying a lack of navigational aids and charts directly affected the safety and regulation of ships.

In 2010, China completed construction of 13 stone tablets and lighthouses on islets in the East China Sea to mark its territorial waters in the oil-rich area, according to state media.

(Reporting by Li Hui and Ben Blanchard; Editng by Robert Birsel)

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