PLA plays down South China Sea island-building

By Christopher Bodeen, AP

BEIJING — China’s military on Tuesday compared its controversial island-building in the South China Sea to ordinary construction such as road-building going on elsewhere in the country, trying to deflect criticism over an issue seen as inflaming tensions in the region.

At the same venue, however, the Defense Ministry issued a report reaffirming China’s more assertive approach to national defense that has put its neighbors on guard.

The document on China’s military strategy said the navy would be adding ��open seas protection�� to traditional remit of ��offshore waters defense,�� while boosting its ability to counterattack and conduct joint operations at sea.

The air force, meanwhile, will ��endeavor to shift its focus from territorial air defense to both defense and offense,�� said the 25-page report, which was issued in English and Chinese at a rare news conference presided over by uniformed officers.

The report’s issuance and comments from ministry spokesman Yang Yujun at the briefing followed a formal Chinese protest over an incident last week in which a Chinese navy dispatcher warned off a U.S. Navy P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft as it flew over Fiery Cross Reef, where China has conducted extensive reclamation work.

The incident, documented by a CNN news crew on board the U.S. plane, prompted a testy editorial Monday in the official Chiense Communist Party newspaper Global Times that warned that Washington should not test Beijing’s restraint or China would have ��no choice but to engage.��

China has bristled at what it sees as U.S. interference in the region and says it is within its sovereign rights in developing islands made from sand piled on top of reefs and atolls. The U.S. and many of China’s neighbors see the island-building as an upending of the status quo by China to bolster its claims to the region and possibly pave the way for military installations far from its shores.