Beijing: Seeking to firm up its hold over the disputed South China Sea, China on Monday said it has commissioned the first desalination plant in the strategic maritime region.
The plant has been set up in Sansha City, a prefecture level city formed in 2012 to administer a number of islands and atolls, including the Spratly Islands which are a disputed group of 14 islands, islets and more than 100 reefs.
The new facility, officially commissioned on Saturday on the city's Yongxing Island, is capable of treating 1,000 tonnes of seawater per day and 700 tonnes of processed water is potable, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Currently, the desalination equipment on Yongxing Island can process 1,800 tonnes of seawater a day. It was essential to support a large infrastructure development, including settlements, specially that of fishermen, who are considered the forward guards in China's efforts to claim all of the South China Sea.
China has invested heavily in the area to develop schools, offices and other administrative infrastructures. The South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of goods passes annually, is a disputed region with rival claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
An international tribunal — formed following a Philippine petition over rival claims over the SCS — has struck down China's "historic rights" over the strategic region.
Meanwhile, China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) has announced plans to set up nine state-level marine parks. One of the parks is located in Hainan, which is close to the South China Sea.
Though Hainan province is not a disputed territory, it is one of the most forward places near the South China Sea. The other eight parks will be located in Liaoning, Fujian, Shandong and Guangdong provinces, an SOA circular said. The SOA has ordered local marine authorities to start demarcating the parks, and not arbitrarily adjust or change the parks' boundaries and zoning.
It has also asked them to improve protection of the marine environment when tourism and aquaculture activities are conducted in certain zones of the parks, the report said. China's state-level marine parks, first introduced in 2011, offer public space for coastal recreation, enhance protection of marine ecosystems and boost sustainable development of coastal tourism, an SOA official said.