The Philippine government has protested China’s construction and operation of two lighthouses in the South China Sea reefs, which is part of the Philippine territory, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.
“We are strongly opposed to China’s construction and operation of lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson Reef,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.
China has finished the construction of two lighthouses in the disputed South China Sea, as tensions in the region mount over Beijing’s maritime ambitions.
Both the United States and the Philippines have opposed the construction.
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
Refusing to recognize Chinese sovereignty over the said features, Jose said “these actions are obviously intended to change the actual conditions on the ground and aimed at bolstering China’s territorial claim in the South China Sea.”
“We will not accept these unilateral actions as a fait accompli,” Jose said.
The two formerly submerged features, along with five other contested rock formations, were rapidly transformed by China into artificial islands in two years despite protests from several nations, which include the United States and Japan.
Philippine officials and diplomats have reiterated that these features are either part of the country’s continental shelf or exclusive economic zone as mandated by the UN Convention on the Law of Sea, of which China, the Philippines and 162 other nations are signatories.
China insisted it would not stand for violations of its territorial waters in the name of freedom of navigation.
The US has signalled it does not recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over the several islands China has built on reefs in the Spratly archipelago and says the US Navy will continue to operate wherever international law allows.
UNCLOS gives each maritime nation the right to manage, explore and exploit features in areas within a 200-nautical mile limit from its coast.
The Philippines accused China of unlawfully interfering with exercising its right to navigation under the UNCLOS.