China has defended the building of lighthouses on islands in the South China Sea, calling them its "inherent territory" amid tensions with Vietnam and other nations that also claim parts of the region.
"China has long been building and maintaining lighthouses and other navigational aids on islands" in the Xisha and Nansha chains, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement posted on the ministry's website Friday.
"What China has done is beyond any reproach since it provides necessary measures to safeguard the navigational safety of vessels passing by and serves the public good in conformity with the requirement of relevant international rules," Hua said.
She reiterated China's position that the Xisha and Nansha islands, known in English respectively as the Paracels and the Spratlys and which lie in the South China Sea, "are inherent territory of China".
Sites for five new lighthouses to be constructed in the Paracels have been chosen, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported Friday, citing China's Navigation Guarantee Center of the South China Sea.
The report said that lighthouse construction experts were dispatched to carry out research at the five sites.
Hua was responding to a written question seeking China's comment on remarks made by a US state department spokeswoman on Thursday.
At a briefing in Washington, the state department's Marie Harf said that the US position has been "for a very long time that we believe territorial disputes should be managed and resolved peacefully, diplomatically, and in accordance with international law".
Harf was responding to a request for comment regarding China's lighthouse plan.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea, including waters, islands, reefs, shoals and rocky outcrops nearer to other countries.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — are claiming parts of the sea, while Taiwan is a sixth claimant.
China-Vietnam relations sank to their lowest point in decades in May after Beijing moved a deep-sea oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracels, causing deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam.
China later removed the rig, in a move that analysts say was aimed at deflecting accusations of aggressive maritime behaviour.
Top Chinese and Southeast Asian diplomats met Saturday for talks overshadowed by maritime tensions during an ASEAN gathering that began Friday in Myanmar.