China has plans to build a permanent environmental monitoring station on one of its islands in the South China Sea despite an ongoing territorial dispute with the Philippines over the shoal.
Media outlets said on Friday that the move could potentially raise new concerns over Beijing’s actions to assert its claims in the strategically crucial waterbody.
“Permanent environmental monitoring stations are being built on six islands and reefs,” media quoted the top political official in Sansha island as saying.
Sansha Communist Party Secretary Xiao Jie told local media that preparatory work on the stations was among the government’s priorities for 2017, but gave no other details.
The South China Sea is located between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei and hosts one of the world’s busiest waterways and is believed to be rich in mineral and gas.
The neighboring countries have long disputed over ownership of territories in the waterbody.
China’s creation of seven man-made islands in the disputed Spratly group, complete with airstrips and military installations, has drawn international criticism.
The United States has been strongly opposed to Beijing’s assertion of its claims in the disputed territories. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has compared China’s island-building and deployment of military assets to Crimea's rejoining Russia in 2014.
Tillerson is currently on a three-leg tour in northern Asia.
The topic is likely to be high on the agenda when Tillerson reaches Beijing for talks with top officials on Saturday and Sunday.