China is getting closer to building maritime nuclear power platforms that could one day to used to support Chinese projects in the disputed South China Sea, a widely-read state-run newspaper said on Friday.
China has rattled nerves with its military and construction activities on the islands it occupies in the South China Sea, including building runways, though Beijing says most of what it is building is for civilian purposes, like lighthouses.
The Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said the nuclear power platforms could "sail" to remote areas and provide a stable power supply.
Liu Zhengguo, head of the general office of China Shipbuilding Industry Corp, which is in charge of designing and building the platforms, told the paper that the company is "pushing forward the work".
"The development of nuclear power platforms is a burgeoning trend," Liu said. "The exact number of plants to be built (by the company) depends on the market demand."
Demand is "pretty strong" he added, without elaborating.
The paper quoted a January report from the China Securities Journal that a demonstration platform is expected to be completed by 2018 and put into service by the next year.
Chinese naval expert Li Jie told the newspaper the platforms could provide power for lighthouses, search and rescue equipment, defence facilities, airports and harbours in the South China Sea.
"Normally we have to burn oil or coal for power," Li said.
"Given the long distance between the Nansha Islands and the Chinese mainland and the changing weather and oceanic conditions, transporting fuel could be an issue, which is why developing the maritime nuclear power platform is of great significance," he added, using the Chinese name for the Spratlys.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and is building islands on reefs to bolster its claims. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.
Visiting Brunei, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi repeated China's stance that disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiation between the parties directly concerned, China's Foreign Ministry said late on Thursday.
China has been angered by a case bought by the Philippines in an international arbitration against China's South China Sea, and says it will neither participate in the case nor accept it.