China is expanding its presence in the South China Sea with plans to build an underwater observation system and to send tourists to the disputed areas.
Chinese media say the government is planning to build an underwater observation system to provide real-time information on many different seabed conditions. The Chinese government newspaper, Global Times, says it will study the physical and chemical qualities of the sea.
Experts say the effort will help China to better explore the area for valuable resources such as oil and natural gas. Each year, five trillion dollars worth of trade passes through the South China Sea. China claims territorial rights to most of the sea.
China expands control of the area
Some observers say the observation equipment is another way for China to strengthen its claims to the area. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia hold competing claims in the South China Sea.
Satellite images suggest that China has added military weapons to some of the islands.
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, May 21, 2015.
The Global Times reports that the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Acoustics and Shanghai’s Tongji University together will build the observation system. An Academy official reportedly said that the undersea project would also cover areas in the East China Sea.
Both China and Japan claim a group of islands in the East China Sea, located about 220 kilometers northeast of Taiwan. Japan calls the islands Senkaku. China calls them Diaoyu.
Experts say they think the system will include an underwater platform with a series of wires linked back to China. They say it could collect information for undersea mineral gathering or oil drilling, but also for military purposes.
Euan Graham is an East and South China seas security expert with Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney. He said it is very likely that scientific findings will be passed to China’s military.
“It’s possible all of those things can inter-operate in the rather gray space between oceanography and military science.”
Yun Sun is with the East Asia Program at the Washington-based Stimson Center. She agreed that China’s military will probably use the information the observation system gathers. But she noted that the observation project will also be valuable for civilian uses.
“I think the military element is part of it, but the civilian part of it is not negligible for this project," she said. "At the minimum, if this system is deployed, it will help China better collect information on both (seas).”
In this Dec. 7, 2016, photo, Chinese Navy officials stand in front of the ship Daqing, in San Diego.
Tourism in disputed waters
Meanwhile, Chinese media reported a new passenger ship began its first trip to the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
Xinhua news agency reported the Chinese ship left Thursday from Sanya, in the southern province of Hainan. It was carrying 308 passengers on a four-day trip. Tourists would be visiting three islands in the disputed Paracels, Xinhua added.
According to the South China Morning Post, officials are also planning to launch tourist flights to the Paracel Islands. The officials are currently seeking approval from government ministries and the military for the flights, the newspaper reported.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOANews.com. Bryan Lynn adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
real-time – adj. actual time during which a process or event happens
platform – v. raised structure with a flat surface where people or machines work
rather – adj. to some degree or level
negligible – adj. small, not important
minimum – adj. the least amount of something