The South China Sea has been in the spotlight for many years with China in the center of all the disputes in the region. In recent times, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and others have been at loggerheads with China over various issues in the region. But China has further strengthened its presence with naval bases and surveillance capabilities despite protests from these smaller countries.

However, a recent report has suggested that China has been building a surveillance platform in the South China Sea that will give the country even greater control in the area which is home to important shipping lanes. Many of the surveillance systems have been found floating in international waters.

China has also publicized the use of remote sensing platforms in the waters. While China says it is for civilian use, there is no guarantee that it will not be used for military purposes, especially when the country already has a full-fledged satellite navigation system.

South China Sea
Claims by countries in the South China Sea Wikimedia Commons

Blue Ocean Information Network

The Asian nation says that the surveillance system is for weather observation, environmental monitoring and early tsunami warning besides navigation service, it will also help in protecting the construction of the artificial islands in the disputed areas. Apart from that, it could also be used to monitor naval movements of other countries including the U.S.

The floating surveillance system is built by the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation that produces high-tech defense products including sensors and communication platforms.

While smaller floating platforms are in large numbers in the water of the region, a bigger integrated station has been installed in one of the islands. The integrated system would help China in maritime research while also in reef construction and protection.

As per a research conducted by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, China has named the platform "Blue Ocean Information Network" which also carries electro-optical and infrared sensor turrets, besides high-frequency radio and cellular poles.

The new surveillance system has been built on an artificial island near Hainan. The area has been home to many disputes between Vietnam and China. Dr Collin Koh, a Research at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told Forbes that the zone fully encompasses sensitive areas and was not just political symbolism.

China's surveillance system
China's surveillance system in South China Sea Twitter/ Orion_int

"Hainan is a crucial base for the PLA Navy not just a hub of naval forces but the country's sea-based nuclear deterrent," he said, adding that it will enable China to assert not only greater control but also the ability to respond quickly to security threats including those from U.S. Navy destroyers.

Underwater Great Wall

China's ambition isn't however limited to the surface and maritime monitoring system. It has also built an underwater monitoring system, 2,000 meters below sea level with multiple sensors in the South China Sea. Termed as the "Underwater Great Wall," it has been built at a cost of around $313 million. It will help China monitor submarines in the region and greater advantage in undersea and naval warfare.

Such developments have also worried China's neighbors, especially Japan which is now aiming to install an anti-missile system that can strike enemy territory. Apart from Japan, many East Asian countries have become increasingly worried.