China’s archaeology research vessel, the Kaogu-01, comes with all the bells and whistles, but its deployment in the South China Sea is a source of concern to the maritime nations of Southeast Asia as it is being used to enforce China’s territorial claims far beyond its shores.
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Archaeology and the South China Sea
The Diplomat, 20 July 2015
In 2013, China enforced those claims on an unsuspecting French archaeologist and his team investigating the wreck of a Chinese junk off the Philippine coast. According to one report, a Chinese twin-prop plane flew overhead. Then a Chinese marine-surveillance vessel approached the Philippines-registered ship, issuing instructions in English to turn around and head back. While it is difficult to say where exactly this incident actually happened, it does go to show that China is both willing and able to use force to enforce its sovereignty claims over shipwrecks and other relics in disputed waters.
China has also turned to the use of passive technology to protect its cultural relics. According to Yu Xingguang, Director of the State Oceanic Administrations Number 3 Research Facility, China has finished developing the technology for monitoring buoys, which employ acoustics technology to survey underwater wrecks and monitor their condition, while also simultaneously using China’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) to identify and monitor ships entering and exiting the area of wrecks in real time.
Enforcing its sovereignty claims off the Philippines is one obvious way that China is using maritime archaeology to assert and protect its sovereignty. Another method apparently used is much more subtle. It involves the use of China’s new ship, Kaogu-01, in disputed areas to assert its control over them, as well as the gradual buildup of work stations and bases in the area, such as the one planned for Yongxing Island.
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