Beijing : China announced on Thursday a five-year plan to develop clean energy and open a research centre in the South China Sea – which could escalate tensions in the hotly-contested waters.

The move, announced by the State Oceanic Administration, adds to Beijing’s increasing assertiveness over the world’s busiest sea trade route. According to the plan, focus will be on developing renewable energy developing relevant technology and utilise island renewable energy, state-run Xinhua news agency said. Resource assessment and building of public service platforms in the South China Sea and island regions will be the focus, the maritime department said. China and other five littoral states, including Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, lay claim to the Sea through which trade worth $5 trillion passes annually.

China, which claims 80 per cent of the water body, has built artificial islands on features that dot the mineral-rich sea and sent its sole aircraft carrier into the water. The US has challenged Beijing’s claims, calling the the sea as international waters.  Beijing’s claims were rejected by an international tribunal last year in a case brought by the Philippines after the Scarborough Shoal was forcibly occupied by China.  The ruling has had little effect on China which termed it as “illegal”.

However, the new President of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has reversed his predecessor’s policy, by suggesting that the dispute could be resolved mutually.

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