Beijing has denied reports that it is preparing to construct an environmental monitoring station on disputed waters in the South China Sea claimed by Manila. The initial report by the state-run Hianan Daily quoted Sansha mayor Xiao Jie as saying China would start preparatory operations for various monitoring stations on numerous islands including the Scarborough Shoal.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying denied these reports claiming “With regards to the Scarborough Shoal, China’s position is consistent and clear. We place great importance on Sino-Philippine relations.”
Some analysts, however, are skeptical of China’s intentions and believe the construction of such a station could boil Philippine relations after they’ve recently recovered.
“Data on water salinity and atmospheric conditions at sea, for example, is not only useful for furthering public knowledge,” explains Collin Koh, a research fellow Nanyang Technological University. “It could also be used to plan and execute military operations.”
Philippine Justice Minister Vitaliano Aguirre said on Monday that Manila would file a complaint against China’s supposed work on the Shoal.
China is continuing to test its neighbors with its construction of artificial islands on contested waters in the South China Sea, where pieces of territory are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The region is strategic waterway which sees trillions of dollars’ worth of ship-borne goods pass.
The US think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative released satellite imagery it claimed showed that China had installed missiles and radars on these waters.
Beijing has also dragged the U.S. into the mix as former President Obama sent in Naval forces to defend freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Relations remain mixed at best under President Donald Trump. However, he is expected to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping within the next month.