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Beijing’s efforts to assert territorial claims in the heavily disputed South China Sea via land reclamation and artificial island construction are “moving ahead steadily,” state media reported Tuesday, also revealing the latest project envisioned for the waterway: a floating nuclear power plant.
The nuclear power plant will primarily provide power for people living in Sansha city, according to the People’s Daily, a newspaper operated by the Communist Party of China. Sansha administers territories throughout the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, and the Scarborough Shoal and sits on Woody Island in the Paracel chain — territories also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Chinese outlet reports that “to improve the livelihood and work conditions of people living on the islands, and strengthen the necessary military defense of the South China Sea within China’s sovereignty, China has rationally expanded the area of its islands and reefs.”
The resource-rich and strategically important South China Sea is vital because of the $4 to $5 trillion worth of goods that travel through it each year, not to mention its potential mineral riches. Areas of the marine bonanza are claimed by multiple sovereign states, including Brunei, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Although Sansha’s new power plant is a piece of civil infrastructure, China has been hard at work on military structures in the region as well, which has neighboring countries as well as global adversaries watching worriedly.
Jay Batongbacal, writer for the Asia Maritime Initiative and professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, told Sputnik News on Monday, “with China’s innovations and establishment of these artificial islands and the kinds of facilities that they are installing, the United States feels threatened already by this because this time weapons are being installed there.”
Beijing’s construction of military-grade infrastructure on the islands in the South China Sea is “nothing that [has] ever been seen before in this area in the past years.”
The People’s Daily report noted that the new super-dredger Tianjing will contribute to further reclamation and island construction projects along with other “magical island-building machines.” Beijing unveiled its first super-dredger in early November. The 460-foot Tian Kun Hao can pick up more than 212,000 cubic feet of sediment from the ocean floor per hour.
“The area of the South China Sea’s islands and reefs will expand a step further” entering 2018, according to the People’s Daily.
The AMTI, an initiative under the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported in December that China had built more than 290,000 square meters of new facilities just in 2017, including weapons depots, radar and sensor systems, and missile shelters.