Wed. Sep 27th, 2023
China Builds BeiDou Satellite System Ground Stations on Disputed South China Sea Reefs

China has constructed two ground stations for its BeiDou satellite system on disputed reefs in the South China Sea. These stations are connected to China’s land-based ship automatic identification system (AIS) and are located on North Reef and Bombay Reef in the Paracel Islands. The Paracel Islands are claimed by Vietnam, Taipei, and China. The ground stations utilize the BeiDou satellite network, which was completed in 2020 as a competitor to the US global positioning system (GPS), to locate vessels and transmit signals.

China’s maritime administration mandates that all ships have an AIS transponder and keep the signal on at all times within Chinese jurisdiction. This ensures that authorities and other ships can identify and track vessels. The ground stations, which began operating on Friday, address a blind spot in China’s shore-based ship AIS in the waters surrounding the Paracels. The stations will enhance ship monitoring capabilities in the area, contribute to the ecological protection of islands and reefs, and provide safer navigation for ships in the South China Sea.

The two ground stations are situated between the Sansha headquarters and several artificial islands where naval and airbases have been established. These waters often witness confrontations between the People’s Liberation Army warships and the US Navy during freedom of navigation operations. Unlike GPS, the BeiDou satellite system does not require a ground station for general navigation or positioning services. However, a nearby ground station can significantly improve accuracy, especially for military applications.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taipei have overlapping claims to portions of the resource-rich South China Sea. China’s deployment of the ground stations further fuels tensions in the region, as neighboring countries challenge China’s expanded territorial claims.