China has begun operating a lighthouse on one of the artificial islands it built up in the South China Sea, a move that will likely further inflame tensions between China and its regional neighbors.
State news agency Xinhua says the 55-meter-high lighthouse on Subi Reef was turned on Tuesday during a ceremony led by Chinese transportation officials. Subi Reef, part of the Spratly Island archipelago, is one of many once-submerged reefs that Beijing has transformed into islands that can support runways and other facilities. China ignored competing claims to the outcroppings by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and other Asian nations. A Chinese civilian airplane made a test landing on a runway on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands in January.
China claims the Subi Reef lighthouse is designed to assist with maritime safety and search-and-rescue efforts. It is also building lighthouses on two other reefs in the Spratly Island chain.
The United States and other nations have also criticized Beijing for its island-building projects in the South China Sea, characterizing the activity as destabilizing for the region. Last year, China was angered when a U.S. naval warship, the USS Lassen, sailed within 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) of the Subi Reef in an operation Washington says was meant to uphold "freedom of navigation" in international waters.
The South China Sea is home to one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.