South China Sea
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy, May 21, 2015. U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

China will build its first national underwater observatory in the disputed South China Sea, according to local reports. Such a platform would allow the country to keep a check on underwater activity in real time.

Shanghai’s Tongji University and the Institute of Acoustics will help build the observation platform, Wang Pinxian, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said Saturday, the state-run Global Times reported. It will reportedly keep track of undersea physical, chemical, and geological dynamics, and will also be used for other purposes.

The Institute of Acoustics did not disclose where exactly the platform will be built due to the “sensitivity” of the project, according to the Times. It also remains unclear when the project is likely to be completed.

The South China Sea region has long been a disputed one, with Beijing laying claims to almost all of the waters. About $5 trillion worth of maritime trade passes every year from the disputed area. China, which has defended its stance by saying that its operations will only add to the safety of the region, has also reportedly been building runways and ports on islands in South China Sea.

Beijing is also close to completing the construction of structures capable of housing long range surface-to-air missiles on the artificial islands in the South China Sea. These structures have retractable roofs and are located on the Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, which are part of the Spratly Islands chain. Such construction has triggered concerns among U.S. authorities that China is seeking military escalation in the region.

"It is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it, and these structures resemble others that house SAM batteries, so the logical conclusion is that's what they are for," a U.S. intelligence official reportedly said.

Apart from China, other claimants of the South China Sea include Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.