China will invite private investment to build infrastructure on islands it controls in the disputed South China Sea and will start regular flights to one of them this year, state media said on Friday, moves likely to anger other claimants.
A U.S. research institute, meanwhile, said China appeared to have stepped up construction work on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea and was close to finishing two more military-length airstrips on them.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
In 2012 China set up what it calls Sansha City, based on Woody Island in the Paracels, to administer its islands there.
Sansha's deputy mayor, Feng Wenhai, said they will welcome private investment and "will initiate public-private-partnership programs", state news agency Xinhua said.
"The city will also push forward the planning and construction of a maritime medical rescue center. Submarine optical cables will be laid and put into use this year, and Wi-Fi will cover all inhabited islands and reefs," Feng said.