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The Chinese Navy has managed to harvest 1.5 tonnes of vegetables on its largest military base in the Paracel Islands – a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea. The Chinese military, along with a research team from Chongqing Jiaotong University, started the project on a beach in the remote Woody Island – the largest of the Paracel Islands.
The team successfully completed a sand-to-soil cultivation in order to create a fertile environment for vegetation.
Although the South China Sea is rich with underwater reefs, creating an ecosystem on land has proven extremely difficult due to the lack of nutrient soil and fresh water.
The ground-breaking project has now put steps in place for human life to be sustained and for China to increase its presence in the dispute region.
Chen Xiangmiao, an assistant research fellow at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times: “Now China’s capability of being able to support civilians on these islands would allow more people to live on the islands.”
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), features must be able to sustain human habitation, have an independent economy and not be reliant on foreign imports to qualify as an official Island.
Zachary Haver, a Washington, based China analyst, said the territory is still reliant on deliveries from Hainan – the southernmost province of China.
However, the expert insisted China is moving in the right direction with its electricity generation and waters which are rich with minerals.
He said: “Woody Island is increasingly self-sufficient, at least in some respects, with robust electricity generation and seawater desalination capabilities.”
Mr Haver added the latest breakthrough will serve as a blueprint for further expansion of its presence in the South China Sea.
China already claims large parts of the water ways and has increased its presence by establishing military bases on the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands.
Haver said: “The development of Woody Island is often seen as the blueprint for the development of other features in the South China Sea
“This is currently most noticeable on Tree Island in the Paracel Islands.
“The Woody Island model will likely be expanded to China’s artificial island bases in the Spratly Islands.”
China’s sovereignly over the South China Sea is disputed by claims from neighbouring Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The South China Sea is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
A 2015 US Department of Defense report found an estimated $5.3 trillion (£4 million) worth of goods are shuttled through the region every year.
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Under international law, a large part of the South China Sea comes under Vietnamese sovereignty.
However, Beijing disagrees and says that the entire waterway up to the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan belongs to China – a claim rejected by an international court of arbitration in 2016.
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