China deploys three 'navigation' beacons in the South China Sea

BEIJING (Reuters) - China deployed three navigation beacons around the contested Spratly islands of the South China Sea, following similar marker placements by the Philippines earlier this month, as both sides try to fortify their claims to the area.

China's Transport Ministry on Wednesday said its South China Sea maritime security center placed the three beacons close to Irving Reef, Whitson Reef, and Gaven Reef of the Spratly islands, which is consisted of many islets, reef banks and shoals.

The beacon placement is to "ensure the safety of ships' navigation and operations," it said.

Earlier this month, the Philippines also placed navigational buoys carrying the country's national flags within its exclusive economic zone, including at the Whitsun Reef, and where hundreds of Chinese ships moored in 2021.

Tensions have heightened recently in contested parts of the South China Sea, one of the world's most important trade routes.

China has claimed nearly the entire South China Sea as its territory. It is also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr and Albee Zhang; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)