Amid concerns over China's extensive military aggressiveness to claim and control territories in the South China Sea, Beijing is now reportedly planning to build monitoring stations in the disputed islands. The construction would mark the first permanent structure on the Scarborough Shoal.
According to local Hainan Daily newspaper, the stations are currently being built on six of the islands and reefs, including Scarborough Shoal, which lies off the northwestern Philippines. It cited a top Communist Party official, Secretary Xiao Jie, from Sansha City that administers the country's claims of islands in the strategically crucial international waterway.
Xiao stated that the other stations would be situated on the features in Paracel groups, which China has been controlling since it seized parts of it from Vietnam in 1974. Both Vietnamand Taiwan claim the Paracel groups.
The Paracel islands are thought to be crucial to China's presence in the South China Sea even if the Spratly islands to the south are considered to be of higher profile.
President Xi Jinping's government is said to be considering the preparatory work on the stations to be one its main priorities for this year, the official said. However he did not give any further details to elaborate China's activities, AP noted.
China has grabbed hold of Scarborough Shoal, the tiny and uninhabited region in the disputed waterbody, in 2012 after a dangerous standoff with the Philippines vessels.
Reports from earlier this week also suggested that China reportedly begun construction work on the Paracel groups, with satellite pictures from the North Island showed land being cleared for possible preparation for a harbour. Reuters noted that the work being carried out could support potential military installations.
The latest development could be seen as a sign that Beijing is moving forward to shore up military reach across the waterway. According to experts, China is making clear its ambitions to strengthen its network of reefs and islets.
China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines – all have long contested ownership of the mineral-rich waterbody, via which $5tn worth trade passes through each year. It is believed to be one of the world's busiest sea routes to sit atop enormous deposits of oil and gas.