Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian promptly acknowledged that China had engaged in a large construction endeavor in the South China Sea, but said "most of the building is for civilian purposes."
Wu declined to specify exactly what was meant by the comment, saying that Beijing has already provided this explanation on multiple occasions.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has said China’s projects in the sea are "a normal right under international law for sovereign nations," while noting that the construction is "normal" and not part of plans to militarize the region.
In a slight against Washington, Wu said regional countries have reached a stable equilibrium in the South China Sea for now, but outsiders want to amplify hostilities concerning the area’s waters.
Satellite imagery captured on March 6 showed the build-up of a military installation on the North Island of the Paracels. Taiwanese media outlets noted that the construction looked like "preparation for a harbor," indicating China may be looking to bolster its naval presence in the area. The Paracels are claimed by a host of countries, including China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In the nearby Spratly Islands, China has developed structures that defense analysts say could be used to store and station surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. One US intelligence official remarked that “it is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it," Sputnik reported February 23.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has blasted Beijing’s activity in the South China Sea as illegal and threatened to blockade China’s access to the area. This prompted an op-ed in the Global Times to fire back, saying that blockades in the South China Sea would lead to a "military clash."