BEIJING, March 17 China will begin preparatory
work this year for an environmental monitoring station on
Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, an official said, as
two U.S. senators introduced a bill to impose sanctions on its
activities in the disputed waterway.
Last month, a Philippine minister said Chinese President Xi
Jinping had promised his Philippine counterpart China would not
build structures on the rocky outcrop both countries claim, but
China called the comments "baffling and regrettable".
China seized the shoal, which is northeast of the Spratly
islands, in 2012 and denied access to Philippine fishermen. But
after President Rodrigo Duterte visited China last year, it
allowed them to return to the traditional fishing area.
This week, Xiao Jie, the mayor of what China calls Sansha
City, said China planned to begin preparatory work this year to
build environmental monitoring stations on a number of islands,
including Scarborough Shoal.
Sansha City is the name China has given to an administrative
base for the South China Sea islands and reefs it controls.
The monitoring stations, along with docks and other
infrastructure, form part of island restoration and erosion
prevention efforts planned for 2017, Xiao told the official
Hainan Daily in an interview.
A spokesman for the Philippine foreign ministry, Charles
Jose, declined to comment, saying it was trying to verify the
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Beijing on
Saturday for a two-day visit, where the South China Sea, almost
all of which is claimed by China, is likely to figure.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also
claim parts of the waters, which have rich fishing grounds,
along with oil and gas deposits. About $5 trillion worth of
trade passes through the waterway each year.
The United States has criticised China's construction of
manmade islands and its build-up of military facilities there,
expressing concern they could be used to restrict free movement.
This week, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ben Cardin
introduced the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act
that would ban visas for Chinese people contributing to building
development projects in the South and East China Seas.
It would also put sanctions on foreign financial bodies that
"knowingly conduct or facilitate a significant financial
transaction for sanctioned individuals and entities" if China
steps up activity at Scarborough Shoal, among other actions.
The senators' proposal was "extremely grating," Chinese
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday.
"I think the proposal put forward by individual senators
shows their arrogance and ignorance," Hua told a daily news
briefing in Beijing.
China resolutely opposes the proposal, which infringes
international law and international relations norms, she added.
Tension over the South China Sea reached a flashpoint after
the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China in the
Hague and as China started militarising artificial islands it
built up on reefs in the region.
China is also involved in a separate dispute with Japan over
a group of uninhabited islands in the East China
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Additional
reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Clarence