China reiterated on Thursday that island construction in the South China Sea is "lawful and justified" and not a military expansion.
"China's construction in the South China Sea is lawful and justified … the construction of islands and reefs is not so-called military expansion," Ren Guoqiang, spokesperson of China's Ministry of National Defense, told a press briefing on Thursday.
The situation in the South China Sea has improved and all parties should continue to help maintain stability in the area, Ren said.
Some media accuse China of beefing up its military presence in the South China Sea, but China has sovereignty over the islands, and therefore has the right to engage in island and reef construction in the area, Wang Xiaopeng, a maritime border expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
China's current construction of islands and reefs does not violate any international law, Wang added.
"China's construction in the area is also aimed at maintaining regional peace and navigation safety. Most of the infrastructure projects are for civil purposes, including airports and facilities to monitor the environment, part of which are needed for national defense," Wang said.
Of the seven inhabited islets in the Nansha Islands, Meiji, Zhubi and Yongshu are the largest. Over 100,000 ships from countries around the world sail safely and freely through the patch of water every year, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
China tested two new airports on Meiji and Zhubi reefs in 2016, about 1,000 kilometers from Hainan Province.