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China appoints new navy chief

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BEIJING (PTI): China has appointed Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong as the new naval chief as Asia's largest navy rapidly expands its fleet amid tensions over its assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.

Vice-Admiral Shen, 60, who had led China's South Sea fleet, has been appointed as the new commander of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), state-run China Daily reported.

Shen in the capacity of the PLA Navy commander had a video chat on Friday morning with officers and sailors of the 25th escort fleet in the Gulf of Aden, a navy news release said on Saturday.

He has replaced Admiral Wu Shengli, 71, to take charge of the largest navy in Asia, the daily said.

Although the navy did not disclose when the transition took place, observers believe it was this week.

Shen, a Shanghai native, had been commander of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla under the North Sea Fleet and then commander of the Navy's Lyushun Logistic Support Base.

In 2010, he was appointed president of the Dalian Naval Academy and promoted to the rank of rear admiral. The next year, he became president of the Naval Command College in Nanjing.

In 2014, Shen led three warships to take part in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise in Hawaii. After the exercise finished, the ships paid a 5-day visit to San Diego, California.

He was named deputy commander of the South Sea Fleet as soon as he returned to China in August that year. In December 2014, he replaced Lieutenant Admiral Jiang Weilie, who was named deputy chief of the PLA Navy, to become the fleet's commander.

Shen was chosen because he has rich experience gained through posts in front-line combat units, institutes and a major fleet's commanding body, it quoted a senior researcher with PLAN as saying.

"He has theoretical and practical knowledge and front-line commanding experience, and he is just 60. This makes him a suitable choice," the senior researcher said.

The change of command came as China is rapidly expanding its naval fleet to back its growing assertiveness over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

New US President Donald Trump is also sharply critical of China reinforcing the artificial islands in the SCS with heavy weapons.

In the past 10 years, PLAN expanded rapidly taking delivery of about 100 advanced ships and submarines as well as a large number of new aircraft.

It commissioned around 20 new ships in 2015 as well as last year and is believed to have deployed several new-generation nuclear submarines during this period, the Daily reported.

The navy now has a carrier battle group headed by its first aircraft carrier Liaoning, which just completed a long-distance, live-fire drill in the Western Pacific Ocean and South China Sea.

A second aircraft carrier is being built with plans for third. The Navy's aviation force has carried out several long-range, combat-ready drills.

Moreover, the navy has gained extensive experience of large, sophisticated operations through its active participation in escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and multinational naval exercises in the past several years, the report said.

China's claims over almost all of the SCS is contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

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