BEIJING - 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 vowed to increase its "open seas protection", switching from air defence to both offence and defence, and criticised neighbours 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 criticised Washington last week after a US spy plane flew over areas near the reefs. Both sides accused each other of stoking instability.
A US State Department spokesman declined to make a specific comment on the Chinese strategy paper, but said Washington urged Beijing "to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."
Jeff Rathke reiterated the US view that China's reclamation work had contributed to rising tensions and said building up of underwater features did not confer a right to a territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama considered the South China Sea security situation "critically important" to US national security and the global economy and said Washington was committed to working with other Asia-Pacific states to protect the free flow of commerce there.
While also declining to comment on the content of China's policy paper, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said its publication was "a step in the right direction" in terms of transparency and "exactly the type of thing that we've been calling for" in that respect.
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.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said China's reclamation in the Spratlys was comparable with construction of homes and roads on the mainland.
"From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference," he told reporters.
Some countries with "ulterior motives" had unfairly characterized China's military presence and sensationalised the issue, he said. Surveillance in the region was increasingly common and China would continue to take "necessary measures" to respond.
"Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs. A tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China," the strategy paper said in a thinly veiled reference to the United States.
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