BEGINNING next year, China will be launching a series of satellites to monitor all vessels in the disputed South China Sea, especially near artificial reefs built by Beijing.
According to the South China Morning Post, the satellites will be able to track water conditions and traffic, and allow Beijing to reinforce “national sovereignty” throughout the disputed waters.
As part of the so-called Hainan satellite constellation system, the country will be launching six optical satellites, two hyperspectral satellites and two radar satellites allowing real-time watch over the waters and monitor key areas several times a day.
Sanya Institute of Remote Sensing director Yang Tianliang said authorities based in Hainan would be able to respond faster to emergencies by using the new system, making administration of the South China Sea more effective.
The satellite system will also allow China improve its exploration and development of the resource-rich waters, the report said.
“Each reef and island, as well as each vessel in the South China Sea, will be under the watch of the ‘space eyes’,” Yang was quoted as saying.
“The system will [reinforce] national sovereignty, protection of fisheries, and marine search and rescue.”
Due for completion by 2021, the programme is being executed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The first phase will involve the launch of three optical satellites equipped with optical remote sensors, a ship identification system, and cameras that could monitor the water conditions, in the second half of next year. The cameras in the first batch of satellites are able to focus on large and mid-sized vessels.
When the programme was launched in December, Yang said the satellites would have a “seamless monitoring and receiving system” of tropical regions.
“This is will cover most of the Maritime Silk Road area.”
China is making competing claims with Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei over control of the Spratly archipelago, where Beijing transformed organic reefs into artificial islands.
The man-made reefs are said to double-up as military facilities.
The South China Sea is widely considered a strategic area for the region and the world, given its position as a vital sea passage through which US$5.3 trillion worth of trade passes every year.
According to the United States Energy Information Administration, about a third of global crude oil and more than half of LNG trade traverses the South China Sea.
Aside from being a strategic sealane of communication, the passageway is also believed to have a wide deposit of proven and possible oil resources – a whopping 11 billion barrels’ worth.