The Chinese Academy of Sciences' (CAS) oceanology institute on Tuesday denied reports of leading military-oriented underwater surveillance in the South China Sea.
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Monday reported that China's new hi-tech underwater surveillance network system project, which gathers underwater data, particularly water temperature and salinity, could help the navy more accurately lock in on targets and improve navigation and positioning.
The report said that the project, led by the institute, is allegedly part of an "unprecedented military expansion to challenge the US in the world's oceans."
A South China Sea Institute of Oceanology employee told the Global Times that the institute is not aware of any system mentioned in the SCMP report and that the institute had never posted information on any military use network on its official website.
The only maritime environment system the institute involved in is scientific research in nature, according to the employee.
"China has never placed any surveillance facilities in the South China Sea," Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the National Institute for the South China Sea, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
"There's no need to do so and such a project costs a lot," Chen said.
However, it is totally legitimate for China to place facilities in the region for scientific research, such as monitoring the hydrological or climate changes in the waters, Chen added.
In May 2017, China approved a plan to build an underwater observation network in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
China will invest 2 billion yuan ($292 million) to build the network, which will be capable of all-weather and real-time HD multi-interface observation from seabed to surface, China Central Television reported in May.
"Military use is only one part of the planned use of the system, but civilian uses will have a much wider and diversified scope in the future," Liu Jiangping, a military analyst, told the Global Times previously.
"Foreign countries should not make a scene of China's legitimate development in the South China Sea region, as the country will not stop its efforts to improve oceanic research and these efforts could also contribute to innovations in oceanic technology and research," Chen explained.