Beijing Planning Construction of Underwater Observatory in South China Sea

© REUTERS / U.S. Navy/HandoutChinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015
Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015 - Sputnik International
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Chinese researchers and academics have embarked on a journey to build the world’s first underwater platform to allow observation of underwater activity in real time, according to Chinese media outlets.

Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., US Navy Commander, U.S. Pacific Command walks past a photograph showing an island that China is building on the Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea - Sputnik International
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Shanghai’s Tongji University and the Institute of Acoustics, a group with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, will kick off construction, the Global Times reported. While the construction will take place within the disputed South China Sea, where a slew of nations have staked territorial claims, the Institute of Acoustics, "refused to reveal the exact location and further details of the research programs on the platform due to its sensitive nature," the New Delhi TV media outlet reported. The Global Times was also denied an answer when it probed the Institute of Acoustics about the location of the platform. 

On February 7, a group of researchers from 13 countries, including France, Italy, the US, and Japan departed Hong Kong to participate in the research drilling mission in the South China Sea, the Times noted. A total of 33 scientists were said to be involved. Researcher Wang Pinxian said the observational network "showcases that the country is actively joining in the international competition."

The first hole completed by drillers was named U14499A, NDTV reported. Drilling on a second hole close to U1449A is underway, the news outlet said.

Chinese state news service Xinhua reported that the drilling was completed and reached a depth of 3,770 meters below sea-level, "for collection of sediment samples." Sciencenet.cn, the Chinese news agency that first reported the construction plans, said the platform would be used to observe deep-water physical, chemical, and geological dynamics, in addition to "other purposes," which, given the amount of traffic crossing through the South China Sea for trade and military purposes, could mean Beijing will have an outpost through which to monitor commercial traffic, as well as submarine and underwater drone activity. 

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The South China Sea is considered to be flush with oil and gas reserves. In addition to China; Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam have staked claims to waters and islands in the South China Sea. On Tuesday, the Vietnamese commissioned two Russian-made Kilo-class attack submarines, as reported by Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense. As The Diplomat notes, "the submarines, armed with supersonic cruise missiles can threaten the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) naval base at Sanya on China’s Hainan Island as well as Chinese military facilities in the South China Sea."

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