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China plans station on disputed shoal

BEIJING (AP) — China plans to build an environmental monitoring station on a South China Sea shoal at the heart of a territorial dispute with the Philippines, potentially raising new concerns over Beijing’s actions to assert its claims in the strategically crucial waterbody.

The top official in Sansha City that administers China’s island claims was quoted by the official Hainan Daily newspaper as saying such stations were being built on six islands and reefs, including Scarborough Shoal off the northwestern Philippines.

Sansha Communist Party Secretary Xiao Jie told the paper that preparatory work on the stations was among the government’s priorities for 2017, but gave no other details.

Beijing seized Scarborough in 2012 after a prolonged standoff with Philippine vessels. Taiwan also includes the island in its South China Sea claims.

The other stations mentioned by Xiao would be situated on features in the Paracel island group that China has controlled since seizing parts away from Vietnam in 1974.

Also this week, the commander in chief of China’s navy, Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong, noted improving relations in a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart, Rear Adm. Pham Hoai Nam, in Beijing.

China and Vietnam have had long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Tensions spiked in 2014 after China parked an oil rig near Vietnam’s central coast, sparking mass protests in Vietnam.

The two navies and their countries should “together play a positive role in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Shen was quoted as saying by China’s defense ministry.