Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army Navy patrol at Woody Island, in the Paracel Archipelago, which is known in China as the Xisha Islands
BEIJING (Reuters) - China has set up a 15 million yuan ($2.25 million) environmental protection fund for the South China Sea having already spent double that in the past four years, the Xinhua state news agency said on Monday.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled this month that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea and it criticized environmental destruction in the waters. China rejected the ruling and refused to participate in the case.
The tribunal found that China's large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands has caused severe harm to coral and violated its obligation to preserve fragile marine environments.
China has repeatedly denied damaging the environment in the South China Sea.
Xinhua said the funds, to be used over the next three years, would initially be spent on exploring the world's deepest underwater sinkhole in the Paracel Islands.
"The funds will be used to support scientific research and development of new methods and equipment in environmental protection," environmental protection official Shi Guoning told Xinhua.
Over the past four years, China has spent more than 30 million yuan to protect reefs and islets, the news agency added.
The government has also released fish and sea turtles into the sea six times and cracked down on illegal hunting of sea birds, it said.
China claims more than 90 percent of the South China Sea, an area which accounts for more than a tenth of global fisheries production and is also claimed in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
China says that as the islands in the South China Sea are its territory it can do as it likes there, and has heavily invested in building infrastructure, including ports and airports, on some of them.
China is also extending 4G mobile phone coverage to more parts of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, the State Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission said in a statement on its website on Monday.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)