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China set to expand maritime surveillance fleet


BEIJING (PTI): Amid a bitter row with Japan over Diaoyu islands in East China Sea and some other neighbours over claims in South China Sea, Beijing Thursday said it will be expanding its surveillance fleet in a big way to protect the country's maritime rights.

A new "inspection ship" equipped with advanced communication and satellite navigations systems joined the fleet under the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) on Tuesday and 36 more will join it later, the state-run 'China Daily' quoted an official as saying.

These are comprised of seven vessels of 1,500 tonnes, 15 of 1,000 tonnes and the remainder in the 600-tonne category.

Zhong Dusen, captain of the 77-metre-long and 10-metre-wide ship, reported to be the fleet's fastest, said it can carry a crew of 43 and has a maximum sailing range of 5,000 nautical miles.

Li Lixin, Director of the South China Sea Branch under the SOA, said at the launch ceremony that China is strengthening its monitoring ability and will build more surveillance ships.

The lack of ocean surveillance ships has hindered the country's ability to protect its maritime rights, an official said.

China, which has a navy with most advance warships and is building its aircraft career now, embarked on the expansion of sea surveillance ships in the midst of deepening maritime disputes.

Sea disputes between China and other countries have surged in recent months.

Sino-Japanese relations have been strained since a collision between two Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats and a Chinese trawler on September 7 in waters off the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

China has since sent several fishery administrative ships to monitor the region but so far has not confronted the Japanese Cost Guard vessels which patrolled the area. The uninhabited islands are under the control of Japan.

In the South China Sea, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei all have competing claims over some islands along with China. Beijing is unhappy that the United States is directly taking interest in calling for a just settlement of the disputes and free navigation.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in July that sovereignty issues in the South China Sea were a "diplomatic priority" for the US and proposed dealing with them in the international arena.

"The new ships (joining the fleet) can be interpreted as China's response to recent sea disputes," said Wang Hanling, a maritime law specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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