State news agency Xinhua said on Tuesday that china will now begin building facilities on the Spratly islands and nearby Paracels, known to the Chinese as the Nansha and Xisha, respectively.
"Apart from satisfying the need of necessary military defense, the main purpose of China's construction activities is to meet various civilian demands and better perform China's international obligations and responsibilities," China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
Military and maritime help
The Ministry reiterated that beyond building military purposes, the construction also intends to aide maritime search and rescue in the area, disaster prevention, scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental conservation, navigation safety and fishing management.
China's controversial land reclamation project has ignited tensions in the region, particularly with Vietnam and the Philippines who have overlapping claims to the area through which some $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.
The US has also criticized the territorial claims, over fears that China will use the gains to assert control over navigation in the South China Sea which could limit the free movement of ships and aircrafts.
Just last month, a US Navy plane flying near to one of China's reclaimed islands was challenged several times by the Chinese military and told to leave the area.
Lu insisted on Tuesday, however, that the construction of airstrips and buildings on the Parcel islands and reefs was "lawful, reasonable and justified" and would not "affect and country's freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea."
ksb/jil (Reuters, AP, dpa)