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Over the past year, China’s navy expanded the Yulin naval base in the island province of Hainan from a conventional submarine facility to a bay that houses nuclear submarines, military news database said.

Four submarine trestles, each 229 meters long, can hold 16 submarines, it says. The aircraft carriers and remote sensing teams are also expected to be based in or near Yulin, according to the report.

The Yulin naval base in China’s island province of Hainan. (Nine)

“It’s going to be a kind of future-oriented construction,” said Alexander Huang, professor of strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

“It takes time. They seem to have all the hardware, all the construction ready, and it’s still going.”

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, and since 2014 it has built small reefs and sandbars on man-made islands heavily fortified with missiles, airstrips and weapons systems, prompting protests from other governments.

At least six other governments also have overlapping territorial claims on the disputed waterway: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan.

File photo of a Chinese nuclear submarine. (AP)

The base, at the northern end of the sea, places ships near small Chinese-controlled islets in the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos, where the navy can conduct exercises and monitor movements from other countries, analysts believe.

“That’s the hub, that’s the base of the South Sea fleet, that’s what ultimately controls all the deployments on Paracels and Spratlys and is where most of the assets that are eventually seen on the islands begin.” said Gregory Poling. , director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

China cannot easily park boats permanently on the islets due to rough seas and distance from the Chinese mainland, he said.

The China-controlled Hughes Reef is located in the Union Banks area within the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea. (Getty)

Washington and its allies, including Australia, say such patrols enforce the right of free passage in international waters, while China argues they are violations of its sovereignty.

Under international law, whoever owns the disputed chain of islands in the sea will have the rights to all the resources in its nearby waters, such as fish, oil and gas.

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More generally, whoever controls this sea will also have power over one of the world’s most valuable trade routes: it hosts a third of all global shipments.

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