China plans to build a massive underwater observation system that will cover the disputed East and South China seas.
The 2 billion yuan (US$290 million) seabed observation systems will provide real-time information about the environmental conditions and seabed activities at a time when China is expanding its presence in both the East and South China seas.
The central government recently approved the plan which would take five years to build and implement, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
A data centre will also be built in Shanghai to monitor and store the chemical, biological and geological information collected from the underwater systems.
Such systems would not only help China advance in scientific research and disaster prevention, but help protect national security, the report said.
Zhou Huaiyang, a professor at the School of Marine and Earth Science at Tongji University, said in the report that the collected data could be passed to other government departments to explore natural resources and protect China’s maritime interests and national security.
But the move is more likely to cause alarm among China’s neighbours as it continues to strengthen its civilian and military presence in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia hold competing claims in the South China Sea, through which an estimated US$5 trillion worth of goods are transported its shipping lanes each year.
The systems, which will also be installed in the East China Sea, are also likely to anger regional rival Japan.
Both China and Japan claim a group of uninhabited islands controlled by Tokyo in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.