China outlined a strategy to boost its naval reach on Tuesday and announced plans for the construction of two lighthouses in disputed waters, developments likely to escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing’s maritime ambitions.
In a policy document issued by the State Council, the communist-ruled country’s cabinet, China said it would increase its “open seas protection,” switching from air defense to both offense and defense, and criticized neighbors who take “provocative actions” on its reefs and islands.
China has been taking an increasingly assertive posture over recent years in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where it has engaged in extensive land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago.
China claims most of the South China Sea and criticized Washington last week after a U.S. spy plane flew over areas near the reefs. Both sides accused each other of stoking instability.
A State Department spokesman declined to make a specific comment on the Chinese strategy paper, but said Washington urged China “to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”
China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.