BEIJING, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- A newly-built airfield on a reef in the South China Sea will help ensure flight and navigation safety for airplanes and ships in the area and greatly improve the ability of marine salvagers, a Chinese official said Monday.
China has finished building the airfield on Yongshu Jiao in China's Nansha Islands, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed Saturday.
The South China Sea has long been a very important seaway connecting China and the rest of the world, as well as a sea corridor between the Pacific and Indian Ocean, said Pan Wei, chief engineer of China Rescue and Salvage under the Ministry of Transport.
"The severe shortage of navigation safety facilities, emergency rescue forces and equipment to deal with oil spills in the South China Sea has impeded the navigation security and economic and social development in the area," Pan said.
The lighthouses on Huayang and Chigua reefs, which went into operation in October 2015, have filled a gap in civil navigation facilities and significantly improved navigation safety in the South China Sea, the official said.
"The lighthouses provide vessels from various countries with sailing directions, safety information, emergency assistance and other public services, reducing navigation risks and marine accidents," Pan said.
As a responsible country, China will continue promoting the building of emergency response and rescue facilities in an effort to shoulder the international obligations of search and rescue operations, marine environmental protection, disaster prevention and reduction, and navigation safety in the South China Sea, the official said.
The lighthouses on Huayang and Chigua reefs are the start of the nation's efforts to construct civilian facilities for guiding and aiding navigation in the South China Sea, Pan said.
The airfield on Yongshu Jiao of China's Nansha Islands will enhance the navigation safety in the busy sea lane.
Nearly 40 percent of global trade is carried through the South China Sea, which sees the passage of at least 40,000 ships annually.
Despite the significant role it plays, the security situation in the South China Sea is complicated. This was partially highlighted by the global search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in March 2014 as problems including lack of infrastructure, weak rescue forces and insufficient public services in the area undermined the timeliness of emergency response and assistance.
Waters surrounding the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea are filled with busy shipping lanes and fishing activity. But since they are far from the Chinese mainland, immediate responses to shipwrecks, natural disasters or pirate attacks are difficult. On these occasions, the authorities will be unable to protect personnel in danger and help the ships and airplanes in the area, Pan said.
The airfield on Yongshu Jiao will significantly reduce the travel time from the Chinese mainland to Nansha Islands, changing the old reliance on vessels for transportation and rescue.
According to Pan, the airfield will also provide more convenient transportation for the residents on the islands and the personnel who are safeguarding the islands and reefs.