China has unveiled a more assertive military strategy with a focus on ‘complicated threats and challenges in the oceans’ on the same day it confirmed the construction of two lighthouses on reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands.

The pledge to increase its navy’s duties from offshore defence to “open seas protection” comes in a white paper released as China is embroiled in a diplomatic spat with the United States over its territorial claims in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

On Tuesday, its Ministry of Transport hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of two multi-functional lighthouses on Huayang Reef and Chigua Reef, “so as to improve the navigation safety in the South China Sea”.

US Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech last week that China’s activities in the area, including building artificial islands in waters it lays claim to, are adding to tensions in the region and increasing the risk of conflict.

Senior Colonel Wang Jin told a press conference that the shift in naval strategy was to meet the needs of the times.

“China is faced with complicated threats and challenges in the oceans and needs a navy that can guard its sovereignty and perform multifaceted military missions,” Wang said.

Areas of the South China Sea are claimed by various countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei.

The white paper highlights four critical security domains, including the ocean, outer space, cyberspace and nuclear weapons.

“The PLA Navy will gradually shift its focus from the sole strategy of offshore waters defence to the combined one of offshore waters defense and open seas protection, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

The military’s overall strategy will be “active defence”, Xinhua said.

“We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked,” it quoted the white paper as saying… see more