China is building its first scientific research wharf in the southern island of Hainan, in its latest effort to boost exploration in the resource-rich South China Sea amid lingering distrust among Southeast Asian neighbours regarding the aims. The Nanshan Port Public Scientific Research Wharf, the first of its kind in China, is now under construction in Yazhou district in Hainan province’s southernmost city of Sanya, according to industry publication China Shipping News. Yazhou is home to Hainan’s largest fishing port , China’s closest harbour to the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The 274 million yuan (US$42.8 million) wharf will take two years to build, and among its features will be four berths for research ships of up to 12,000 tonnes, as well as a base for manned deep-sea research submersibles, according to an earlier notice from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Deep-sea Science and Engineering. The project will “effectively enhance China’s capability in resource exploration in the South China Sea”, wharf builders Second Harbour Engineering Company, a subsidiary of state-owned giant China Communications Construction Company , said in a statement on its website. “[The wharf] would strengthen the capacity of national marine research infrastructure, which is also of great significance in mastering key technologies in the field of exploring the deep sea and promoting [the country’s] maritime power strategy,” the statement said. As part of its “ great rejuvenation ” plans, China has invested heavily in marine research infrastructure over the past two decades in an effort to become a great maritime power. In March, Beijing announced that a 10,100-tonne research vessel was under construction in Guangdong, and in October, the 6,880-tonne Sun Yat-sen University , China’s biggest and most advanced research vessel, made its first voyage to the South China Sea to study the stream of the Western boundaries of the waters. Earlier this week, China said that its domestically built deep-sea scientific research ship, the 5,000-tonne survey vessel Dong Fang Hong 3, had wrapped up its 44-day voyage in the western Pacific, where researchers carried out multiple investigations over the Kyushu-Palau Ridge in the Philippine Sea and the Mariana Trench, the deepest section of the world’s oceans. While Beijing insists that such explorations are for the public benefit, its maritime research activities have been greeted with suspicion by neighbours in Southeast Asia, many of whom dispute China’s claims in regional waters. Beijing’s claims covering more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea – home to a wealth of natural resources, fisheries and trade routes – are hotly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Related tensions flare up from time to time. Last month, Malaysia summoned the ambassador of China after Chinese vessels, including the survey ship Dayang, were spotted operating in waters near a gas field off the coast of Sarawak, where a Malaysian oil company is carrying out drilling operations. China harassing Malaysian oil and gas vessels on ‘daily’ basis: US think tank But Beijing is not the only rival claimant stepping up scientific research in the South China Sea. In October, the University of the Philippines said its researchers were operating a hub on Thitu island , the second-largest in the Spratlys chain, which is controlled by Manila but also claimed by Beijing, Hanoi and Taipei. The Philippines’ ABS-CBN News network said at the time that the hub also aimed to assert Philippine territorial rights over the area.