China Expands Fleet To Protect Maritime Rights

In a move that is unlikely to calm any neighboring anxieties, China says it is increasing the size of its fleet that patrols the seas around its shores. A new high-speed surveillance cutter was launched this week, with three dozen more ships to follow, according to state media. That will boost the size of the Marine Surveillance fleet, a paramilitary agency of the State Oceanic Administration, by more than a third, as best as this Bystander can tell. The picture above shows the new vessel at anchor at Guangzhou, home port of the Marine Surveillance flotillas covering the South China Sea; the East China Sea flotillas are based in Shanghai and those for the Bohai and Yellow Seas in Qingdao.

Xinhua says that China has fallen behind countries like Japan and South Korea in its ability to protect its maritime rights. Beijing and Tokyo locked horns in September over a Chinese trawler detained by the Japanese Coast Guard in disputed waters of the East China Sea. China has already increased the number of fisheries patrol boats there in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands that it claims as the Diaoyu Islands and off which lie rich fishing grounds and potentially richer undersea oil, gas and mineral deposits.

China also has maritime claims around the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea that are disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. These claims were prominent durning Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s trip to Vietnam, where he urged a “proper handling of the South China Sea issue”. The newly launched patrol ship, which will be the fastest in the fleet, a 77-meter, 1,290 ton cutter equipped with satellite technology, is headed for those waters. Hanoi will be looking on with interest bordering on concern. Washington will be watching this new watcher, too.

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