BEIJING • China is testing a new dredger ship that will greatly enhance its land reclamation capabilities, a media report said, as the country continues to develop facilities in the South China Sea in a bid to boost its claims in the waters.
Beijing News said yesterday the Tian Kun Hao began water tests last Friday. A cutter suction dredger is a type of ship used for large-scale projects to create or reclaim land. "For example, there are many hard coral reefs on the sea floor of the South China Sea," the paper quoted Mr Zhang Xiaofeng, chief engineer for the vessel, as saying, adding that the ship would be put into service some time in the first half of next year.
Recent satellite images show that China has quietly undertaken more construction and reclamation in the South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$6.8 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes each year, in a bid to strengthen its grip despite objections from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam as well as the United States.
Some experts say China will land its first deployments of jet fighters onto its runways in the Spratly islands in the coming months.
The United States is concerned China's construction of islands and military build-up in the waters could be used to restrict free nautical movement. Its ships have carried out freedom of navigation patrols in the area, angering China.
The subject could come up when US President Donald Trump visits Beijing this week and meets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, though North Korea's recent nuclear and missile tests are expected to feature more prominently in talks.
"The South China Sea issue isn't an issue between China and the United States," Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang told reporters last Friday, adding that there was no issue with freedom of navigation in the region and that China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands and surrounding waters.