China has deployed some 100 ships to the South China Sea, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative run by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies reports.
The large armada was sent to the Thitu Island, a Philippine-held part of a large cluster of islands disputed between China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, it said.
The fleet, which includes vessels from the navy, coastguard and dozens of fishing boats, is part of an effort to stop the Philippine government from continuing construction on the island, it added.
According to the report, the number of deployed ships surged on December 25, reaching 95 ships. The number has since dropped, reaching 42 vessels by January 26.
he Philippine government has been seeking to develop an airway on the island by building a breaching ramp since 2017.
The project was due to be finished by the end of last year, but officials say that it has been delayed because of extreme weather.
China claims sovereignty to most of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in shipping trade passes annually, despite competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The US has been taking sides with several of China’s neighbors in their territorial disputes in the busy sea, stepping up military presence under the pretext of freedom of navigation operations in international waters, prompting Beijing’s alarm.
China has constantly warned Washington that close military encounters by air and naval forces of the two countries in the region could easily trigger miscalculation or even accidents at sea or in air.
In January, President Xi Jinping ordered China’s armed forces to get prepared for a “comprehensive military struggle” amid an era of drastic changes.