(Reuters) – China’s plans for islands it is creating in the South China Sea show for the first time the scale of civilian architecture it will extend across the disputed waterway, entrenching its reach in the maritime heart of Southeast Asia, experts say.
China’s Foreign Ministry gave rare detail on Thursday, saying reclamation and building work in the Spratly archipelago would allow for scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental protection and fisheries services.
Navigational aids, shelters and search and rescue facilities were also being built, it said.
While the ministry did not specify who would protect the facilities, experts said the job would routinely fall to the coastguard, which is already leading efforts to enforce China’s claimed sovereignty over the South China Sea, rather than its navy.
The islands and reefs in the Spratlys, the main flashpoint in the South China Sea, would also meet the demands for China’s military defense, the ministry said without elaborating.
“They are trying to put a civilian sheen on this but I think people will see through this and see (the reclamations) for what they really are,” said Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies.