03/21/2012, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing to boost surveillance in East and South China Seas

Behind the banner of protecting "territorial sovereignty", a battle is underway for control of natural resources. The Chinese Navy intercepts a Japanese ship, seizes two Vietnamese fishing trawlers off the Paracel Islands. A ransom is asked for the release of their release.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Beijing is planning to boost its surveillance capabilities in disputed waters in the South and East China seas to protect its territorial sovereignty, a maritime expert is quoted as saying in China's official news agency Xinhua.

The mainland's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) sent six surveillance ships, including the Haijian 50, its biggest, and the Haijian 66, its fastest, to the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea last week, Xinhua reported.

The Haijian 66 reportedly "kept unauthorised Japanese survey ships out of waters under Chinese jurisdiction," the news agency added.

On their return voyage on Sunday, the surveillance ships inspected the Chunxiao and Pinghu gas fields, Chinese Navy sources said.

Two other SOA surveillance ships in the South China Sea also discovered more than 30 gas exploration platforms set up by foreign countries.

For Prof Wang Hanling, an expert in maritime affairs and international law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, regular patrols of disputed waters in the South China and East China seas would protect Chinese fishermen's rights and strengthen Beijing's control.

However, Vietnam slammed the illegal seizure by the Chinese Navy of two Vietnamese vessels and their 21 crew near the Paracel Islands.

"The captain spoke to his family and told them the Chinese are demanding 70,000 yuan (,000) for their release," said Pham Thi Huong of the People's Committee of Ly Son island in Vietnam's Quang Ngai province.

Officials advised the family not to pay the ransom and have asked Hanoi to press for their release.

Among all Asia-Pacific nations, China has the biggest claims in the South China Sea, including uninhabited but resource-rich Spratly and Paracel Islands.

Beijing also claims the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Controlling these islands would provide a major strategic advantage in terms of trade and access to oil and natural gas.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are opposed to China's expansionism, and can rely on the support of the United States, which has major strategic interests in the area.

In the recent past, the Asia-Pacific region has seen various incidents involving Navy ships and fishing boats from different countries.

Under the circumstances, countries like the Philippines and Japan, but also Vietnam, could become allies in case of open conflict.

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