Island residents enjoy stable power supply, fresh water
China has accelerated construction and enhanced its military presence on South China Sea islands and shoals over the past year as territorial tensions with neighboring countries are subsiding.
China's construction projects in the South China Sea region covered about 290,000 square meters in 2017, including new facilities for underground storage, administrative buildings and large radar, according to a report released on nanhai.haiwainet.cn, a website jointly run by the National Marine Data and Information Service and the People's Daily Overseas Edition.
The report added that China has reasonably expanded the area of South China Sea Islands, in order to enhance military defense capability within its sovereign scope and improve the lives of people living on the islands.
One of the most outstanding achievements of South China Sea's island-building is the increase of civilian facilities in these islands. These improve their public service capacity and help to maintain sovereignty over the islands, Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow with the National Institute for the South China Sea, told the Global Times.
Residents of Sansha city on Yongxing Island, South China's Hainan Province will have a more stable power supply once a floating nuclear power platform has been put into use. People on some islands have installed seawater desalination facilities.
A fleet of offshore nuclear platforms, a civilian-military integration project, are reportedly to be commissioned before 2020, the Chinese news site thepaper.cn reported in November.
The website's report said that the defense capability on these islands has also been improved with more professional troops being stationed there.
The number of students in Yongxing's school in Sansha, which is located in the southernmost point of China, has increased from six to 23 this year, said the report, adding that Sansha's government has also built libraries and stadiums to enrich people's lives.
The size of some South China Sea Islands will be further expanded in the future with more dredging vessels, such as the Tiankun working on the land reclamation projects in the South China Sea region, said Chen, adding that a regional transportation network in South China Sea has also begun to shape up in recent years. Over 680 flights have taken off from Yongxing airport since the end of 2016, China News Service reported in December.
The island-building also helps China to fulfill its international responsibility, including maritime search and rescue, navigation safety and environment protection, Chen added.
Sansha city for the first time held "sea-sky three-dimensional" joint search and rescue exercises in June, a move to improve Sansha's ability to respond to maritime rescue and ensure safe navigation of passing ships.
Necessary military deployment
However, some foreign media and governments continue to hype China's moves in this region, stirring unnecessary worries from neighboring countries and posing a threat to China's island-building activities, experts noted.
The US think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative on December 14 published satellite photos, which allegedly were taken in the South China Sea region, showing airbases, radar towers and missile defense systems. "Carrying out peaceful construction and deploying necessary defense equipment in our own territory is part of China's sovereignty," said Liu Feng, a Hainan-based expert on the South China Sea.
Liu added China's deployment of defense equipment is necessary for defense and control of the maritime situation.
"It's a necessary move for China to have defense equipment considering that we are now facing threats from the U.S. and other countries because of the U.S. fighters' frequent visits to the area and other countries constantly holding military drills in this region," Liu said.
The relationship between China and other Southeast Asia countries, such as the Philippines, has calmed in recent years, providing a golden opportunity for China to upgrade these areas, said Chen, while urging China and other Southeast Asia countries to conduct more effective dialogue and cooperation on the South China Sea issue.