BEIJING – China is getting closer to building maritime nuclear power platforms that could one day be used to support Chinese projects in the disputed South China Sea, a widely-read state-run newspaper said on Friday.
China has rattled nerves with its military and construction activities on the islands it occupies in the South China Sea, including building runways, though Beijing says most of what it is building is for civilian purposes, like lighthouses.
The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said the nuclear power platforms could “sail” to remote areas and provide a stable power supply.
Liu Zhengguo, head of the general office of China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, which is in charge of designing and building the platforms, told the paper that the company is “pushing forward the work”.
“The development of nuclear power platforms is a burgeoning trend,” Liu said. “The exact number of plants to be built (by the company) depends on the market demand.”
Demand is “pretty strong” he added, without elaborating.
The paper quoted a January report from the China Securities Journal that a demonstration platform is expected to be completed by 2018 and put into service by the next year.
Chinese naval expert Li Jie told the newspaper the platforms could provide power for lighthouses, search and rescue equipment, defense facilities, airports and harbors in the South China Sea.
“Normally we have to burn oil or coal for power,” Li said.
“Given the long distance between the Nansha Islands and the Chinese mainland and the changing weather and oceanic conditions, transporting fuel could be an issue, which is why developing the maritime nuclear power platform is of great significance,” he added, using the Chinese name for the Spratlys.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and is building islands on reefs to bolster its claims. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.
Visiting Brunei, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi repeated China’s stance that disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiation between the parties directly concerned, China’s Foreign Ministry said late on Thursday.
China has been angered by a case bought by the Philippines in an international arbitration against China’s South China Sea, and says it will neither participate in the case nor accept it.
Meanwhile, a U.S. official on Thursday questioned China’s intentions with its massive land reclamation projects in the South China Sea and urged it to follow international laws.
“The United States and Vietnam share an interest in maintaining peace and stability in the region,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “So does China. But its massive land reclamation project in the South China Sea and increasing militarization of these outposts fuel regional tension and raise serious questions about China’s intentions.”
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, an area that contains some of the world’s busiest sea lanes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits. Its claim is disputed by other countries in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines.
“The United States will defend our national interest and support our allies and partners in the region. We are not looking for bases, but we will continue to sail, to fly, to operate anywhere that international laws allow,” Blinken said in a speech at Vietnam’s National University in Hanoi.
Amid tensions over China’s reclamation work – including the construction of airstrips, ports and radar stations and the positioning of surface-to-air missiles on at least one new island – Beijing’s Defense Ministry on Thursday appeared to confirm a test of an intercontinental missile.
A three-sentence statement posted on the ministry’s website posed the question of whether China had fired an ICBM “in the South China Sea area.”
In its response, the ministry said China maintains that “technological research experiments conducted according to plan within China’s boundaries are normal and are not aimed at any specific nations or targets” – a standard ministry response to questions about testing of military hardware.
The statement follows a report in the U.S. newspaper Washington Free Beacon that quoted unidentified Pentagon officials as saying China tested its longest-range DF-41 missile with two multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles on Tuesday. The report did not say where the test took place, but referenced recent tensions between China and the U.S. over Beijing’s actions to shore up its claims to the South China Sea.
Chinese military analyst Ni Lexiong said the ministry appeared to be seeking to advertise China’s capabilities and boldness while leaving room for speculation about its actions and intentions.
That approach aims to show that China is “prepared for conflicts and even combat, though unwilling to see it actually happen,” said Ni, who teaches at Shanghai’s University of Political Science and Law.
Blinken said the United States welcomes China’s peaceful rise and that he hopes China will “act in accordance with international norms and rules and laws,” because that would benefit China as well as other countries.
Ignoring those rules and laws would alienate many countries and diminish, not expand, China’s power over time, he said.
Blinken’s trip comes ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama to Hanoi in late May. Obama is expected to discuss a range of issues including the South China Sea and human rights.
Blinken said the Vietnamese government should release all political prisoners and stop arresting people who are “exercising their internationally recognized rights.”