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Beijing defends plans for artificial islands in South China Sea

Beijing has defended plans to build artificial islands in a disputed area of the South China Sea. The US has warned that the program could destabilize the region.

China outlined plans on Thursday to create artificial islands in the disputed

South China Sea

, saying they would be used for military defense and provide civilian services that would benefit other countries.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the reclamation and building work in the Spratly archipelago was also needed because of the risk of typhoons in an area with a lot of shipping far from dry land.

"We are building shelters, aids for navigation, search and rescue as well as marine meteorological forecasting services, fishery services and other administrative services," Hua said.

The reclamation spanning seven reefs has raised concern for other claimants of the territory.

Satellite images on the website of the Center for Strategic and International Studies show a flotilla of Chinese vessels dredging sand in an area known as Mischief Reef.

Further images of the Spratly Islands show aircraft runways appearing from jungle, solid mass where there was once coral and man-made harbors replacing natural reefs.

Territorial dispute runs deep

China Bildergalerie Chinas Diplomatie mit dem Bagger

Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly island group, South China Sea

China had laid claim to most of the South China Sea. However, the Philippines,Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke described the land reclamation as "destabilizing" and said it was "fueling greater anxiety within the region about China's intentions amid concerns that they might militarize outposts on disputed land features in the South China Sea."

"We very much hope that China would recalibrate in the interests of stability and good relations in the region," he added.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea does not legally allow for reclaimed land to be used to demarcate 12-nautical-mile territorial zones.

lw/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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