China puts up new research stations on PH-claimed reefs in West Philippine Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 23) — China has established two new research stations in the West Philippine Sea, Beijing’s state news agency reported.

Xinhua reported March 20 that two research stations under the Integrated Research Center for Islands and Reefs of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have begun operating on Kagitingan Reef, which China calls Yongshu Reef, and on Zamora Reef, which is known to Beijing as Zhubi Reef.

The research center’s base is located at Panganiban Reef, which China calls Meiji Reef.

Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban reefs are all within the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the disputed South China Sea claimed by the Philippines.

The Chinese state news agency said the two research stations together with previously ones, are part of “an integrated scientific research base on coral reef and deep-sea.”

It said the research base will support the study of oceanographers and improve their observations and experiments on capabilities in ecology, geology, environments, materials and marine energy utilization.

The two stations are equipped with laboratories on ecology, geology and the environment, Xinhua reported, citing a source from the Chinese school.

The Chinese research station on Kagitingan Reef, also known as Fiery Cross Reef, has “several real-time monitoring systems for coral reef ecosystem, vegetation ecology and freshwater conservation.”

Meanwhile, the research station on Zamora Reef “has completed the project design of monitoring systems for geological disaster and freshwater conservation.”

Xinhua said the Chinese Academy of Sciences will soon focus on research on ocean acidification, micro-plastic pollution, coral reef ecosystem conservation and marine disaster treatment.

Last year, China also placed facilities in these areas supposedly to restore coral reefs destroyed by its island-building activities. It also opened a “maritime rescue center” in Kagitingan Reef that same year.

Beijing first occupied Kagitingan Reef in 1988 and has since built structures there.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China violated its obligations under international law to protect and preserve the marine environment by its massive reclamation work and other island-building activities in Kagitingan Cross Reef and other contested areas in the Spratly group of islands.

The landmark decision also recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in areas being contested by China within Manila's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, or the West Philippine Sea. China rejects the arbitral ruling and stands by its sweeping claim to almost the entire South China Sea.