BEIJING - A Chinese government bureau is planning a base station for an advanced rescue ship in the disputed Spratly Islands, state media reported on Monday, as China continues its push to develop civilian and military infrastructure in the contentious region.
The ship, which would carry drones and underwater robots, is set to be deployed in the second half of the year, said Chen Xingguang, political commissar of the ship, which is under the South China Sea Rescue Bureau of the Ministry of Transport, according to the official China Daily.
The civilian bureau has 31 ships and four helicopters conducting rescue missions in the South China Sea, and officials from the department told the China Daily they work with the military on such efforts.
Officials said the rescue ship base station would enable rescue forces to aid fishing boats in trouble, and shorten the distance they need to travel.
It is unclear on which island the ship will be based, but China has carried out land reclamation and construction on several islands in the Spratly Archipelago, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Washington has accused Beijing of militarising the South China Sea after creating artificial islands, while Beijing, in turn, has criticized increased U.S. naval patrols and exercises in Asia.
China has said it plans to continue building civilian facilities in the region to benefit itself and other countries, as well as "necessary military facilities". Analysts say an airstrip China is building on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys could be used for both civilian and military jets.
In a separate article, the China Daily said Beijing has build two lighthouses and four beacons on the disputed Paracel Islands and has set up four base stations for radio communications and civilian cellphone networks, providing "complete coverage of the area".
The official People's Liberation Army Daily said on its microblog that China's South China Sea fleet carried out military drills to boost combat capability in the western Pacific on Saturday, without specifying exactly which area. (Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Michael Perry)