China to set up satellite, radar network to strengthen maritime power

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will set up an offshore observation network, including satellite and radar stations, to strengthen the country’s maritime power, the official China Daily reported on Friday, in a move that could exacerbate tensions in the region.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy replenishment ship Qiandaohu (866) (L) sails past the PLA Navy hospital ship, Peace Ark, as it docks at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam to participate in the multi-national military exercise RIMPAC 2014, in Honolulu, Hawaii, June 24, 2014. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

Many of China’s neighbors, including Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, have expressed concern at China’s military build-up and increasingly assertive posture in the region.

The network, which an official from the State Oceanic Administration called “fundamental” to protecting China’s maritime interests, is set to be completed by 2020, the newspaper said.

The network would cover coastal waters, the high seas and polar waters, the report said, adding that undersea observation operations and tsunami warning stations would also be built.

The network would help China realize the potential for resources in China’s marine areas, the report said. It did not mention how much the network would cost to build.

China lays claim to almost all of the South China Sea, believed to be rich in minerals and oil-and-gas deposits. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.

In the East China Sea, a string of islets claimed by both China and Japan, known in China as the Diaoyu and in Japan as the Senkaku, have strained ties. Patrol ships and fighter jets from both countries have shadowed each other regularly near the uninhabited islands, sparking fears an accidental collision or other incident could escalate into a larger conflict.

U.S. President Barack Obama last month sought to reassure Asia-Pacific allies about Washington’s strategic shift toward the region, alluding to Beijing’s maritime disputes with its neighbors.

Obama promised continued efforts to enhance security ties with countries including longtime close ally Japan and former foe Vietnam.

Last month Washington called on Beijing to halt a land reclamation project in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea after reports said satellite images showed China was building an island on a reef that could be large enough to accommodate an airstrip.

China said it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands and that the United States had made “irresponsible remarks”.

Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman