06/17/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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South China Sea: Beijing sending patrol ship

Beijing plans to boost its naval presence in the area over the coming years. Tensions are growing because other stakeholders are not giving up their claims.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is sending its largest patrol ship to the South China Sea and plans to increase its naval patrols in the area. It also announced that it just completed a three-day naval drill.

According to the Global Times, 14 Chinese Navy vessels recently staged drills in waters near China's southern island of Hainan, including anti-submarine manoeuvres and the beach landing of troops. The exercises were aimed at “defending atolls and protecting sea lanes”.

The China Maritime Surveillance force said it would boost its current staff of 9,000 to 15,000 personnel by 2020. The patrol fleet will have 350 vessels by 2015 and 520 by 2020.
The force falls under the State Oceanic Administration, an agency that supervises China's coastline and territorial waters.

On Wednesday, Beijing sent its largest patrol ship, the 3,000-tonne Haixun-31, to monitor shipping and "protect maritime security". The ship has a helicopter pad and can stay at sea for up to 40 days

Despite this display, China insists that all it wants to do is maintain “peace” in there region.

The South China Sea includes two archipelagos, the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands, which have no permanent human settlement but are a treasure-trove in energy sources and raw materials.

Their control is also important strategically in terms trade and resource development, especially oil and natural gas.

China’s claims are countered by those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Beijing’s favoured approach is bilateral talks; however, the other parties to the disputes, above all Vietnam, want a multilateral approach to offset China’s preponderance. The United States would be included given its strategic interests in the area.

Tensions are rising as the dispute turns into a major confrontation. Filipino President Benigno Aquino said he might call on Washington to establish a permanent naval presence in the area claimed by his country. Vietnam also conducted joint exercises with the United States on Monday.

Vietnam occupies more than 25 islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands, which could weigh heavily on future talks. Vietnam’s Deputy Defence Minister Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh warned that if any other party escalated the dispute, "we would not just stand back and watch".

In the meantime, the show of force goes on as all parties bolster their military presence in the area.

Even Taiwan said this week it would be sending a naval fleet to Taiwan-controlled Taiping, the biggest island in the Spratly archipelago.
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