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China deploys three ‘navigation’ beacons in Spratlys

BEIJING — China deployed three navigation beacons around the contested Spratly islands of the South China Sea, following similar marker placements by the Philippines earlier this month, as both sides try to fortify their claims to the area.

China's Transport Ministry on Wednesday said its South China Sea maritime security center placed the three beacons close to Irving Reef (Balagtas Reef), Whitsun Reef (Julian Felipe Reef), and Gaven Reefs (Burgos Reefs) of the Spratly islands, which is consisted of many islets, reef banks and shoals.

The beacon placement is to "ensure the safety of ships' navigation and operations," it said.

Earlier this month, the Philippines also placed navigational buoys carrying the country's national flags within its exclusive economic zone, including at Balagtas Reef and Julian Felipe Reef, and where hundreds of Chinese ships moored in 2021 and again in 2022.

Tensions have heightened recently in contested parts of the South China Sea, one of the world's most important trade routes.

China has claimed nearly the entire South China Sea as its territory. It is also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

According to JP Soriano's report on "24 Oras", maritime expert Ray Powell on Twitter said China has sent out a buoy tender to the West Philippine Sea. It can reportedly remove and put up buoys.

In a separate tweet, he said the vessel had reached Whitsun Reef and that the Philippine Coast Guard had also sent a ship to monitor the movement. 

"China’s buoy tender Hai Xun 173 is at Mischief Reef with survey ship Xiang Yang Hong 31 (also arrived yesterday from Whitsun Reef) and a militia ship," Powell said.

"A clearly concerned Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) dispatched BRP Malapascua to monitor,” he added.

GMA Integrated News sought for the Chinese Embassy’s comment but it has yet to issue a statement.  — Reuters with a report from Sundy Locus/NB, GMA News