Its navy drills grab most of the attention, but China has also been quietly mounting a range of civilian and scientific operations to consolidate its claims in the South China Sea . The diversified approach includes setting up a maritime rescue centre in Sansha, a prefecture-level city on Woody Island, which China calls Yongxing. It also involves undisclosed research and oil infrastructure. Observers said the multipronged approach is meant to bolster China’s presence and consolidate its actual control over the waterway as other counties repeatedly question its claims to the waters. “A diversified approach can show China’s sovereignty, and managing related affairs and providing services to others in the region can put China in a stronger position in relation to the claims,” said Zhang Mingliang, a specialist in South China Sea studies at Jinan University in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. One of China’s more recent moves has been the establishment of a maritime rescue centre on Fiery Cross Reef, known in China as Yongshu Reef, in January 2019 . State news agency Xinhua said the centre laid a foundation for a 24-hour emergency rescue network and helped Beijing to promote itself as a responsible major country in the region. China also set up a tsunami warning centre in Beijing with a network of stations throughout the waters in 2018 to monitor major earthquake zones, and began providing services to nine Southeast Asian countries from November the following year. South China Sea: key moments in a decades-long dispute In addition, there is a series of research projects conducted over eight years called the South China Sea In-depth Programme. State-run Labour Daily said the projects “raised new viewpoints that challenged traditional views”, but did not describe the scientific achievements or the nature of the projects. In the report, Wang Pinxian, head of the expert team overseeing the programme, said the projects helped “boost dominance” in scientific research in the South China Sea. And in June, a 256-metre floating production storage and offloading vessel was deployed to Liuhua 16-2 oilfield southeast of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, according to China National Offshore Oil Corporation. The platform is the latest of 17 China has deployed in the region to secure energy supplies and support Beijing’s strategy to become a maritime power, according to Economic Information Daily . Yan Yan, director of the Research Centre of Oceans Law and Policy in the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said China’s activities were in less sensitive areas compared with those by competing claimants Vietnam and Malaysia, which had multiple oil-drilling platforms in the South China Sea. “I think these civilian and scientific efforts [by China] are part of the normal practice of exercising jurisdiction and most of them are in less sensitive fields, which can help improve environmental protection and sustainable development,” Yan said. Nevertheless, the United States has said that China’s expansive claims over the waters are “completely unlawful” .