The Philippines on Monday issued a public statement protesting China’s unilateral construction and operation of lighthouses in two South China Sea reefs, which Manila says is part of its territory.
"We are strongly opposed to China's construction and operation of lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson Reef,” Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.
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.
A Reuters report said a pair of giant lighthouses now stands at Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef and became operational this month.
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 (EEZ) as mandated by the UN Convention on the Law of Sea, of which China, the Philippines and 162 other nations are signatories.
UNCLOS gives maritime nations the right to manage, explore and exploit features in areas within a 200-nautical mile limit from its coast.
With its occupation of the said areas, Manila accused Beijing of unlawfully interfering with exercising its right to navigation under the UNCLOS.
Analysts, quoted by Reuters, said China’s construction of lighthouses is meant to reinforce its claim in these areas through effective occupation.
China virtually claims the South China Sea nearly in its entirety even as it overlaps with territories of other Asian nations like the Philippines. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are also contesting ownership to the waters.
The Philippines has sought international arbitration to resolve the sea disputes, saying it’s a durable solution that is accepted internationally.