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China ramping-up navy with more ships amid maritime disputes

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BEIJING (PTI): China is ramping-up its naval surveillance fleet in big numbers as part of attempts to assert its control in the disputed South and East China Sea to fend off emerging challenges from the US and Japan in the region.

China is expanding its coast guard fleet to better protect the country's maritime rights, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said on Jan. 17.

China will speed-up the construction of 20 inspection ships this year and plans to purchase patrol ships and planes, SOA director Liu Cigui was quoted as saying by the state media.

A report by state-run CCTV said China has deployed 17 ships in the South China Sea, where it is involved in maritime disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Chinese naval ships are regularly patrolling the disputed islands called Diaoyu by China and Sankakus by Japan in the East China Sea, where the navies of the two countries were recently involved in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

China is also deeply apprehensive of US' big push in the Pacific with plans to deploy 60 per cent of its naval fleet in the region.

Liu said more ships are expected to join the fleet.

A 4,000-tonne vessel joined the fleet since the China Coast Guard was established in July.

The Coast Guard is a consolidation of the China Maritime Surveillance, the coast guard force of the Ministry of Public Security, the fishery law enforcement command of the Ministry of Agriculture and the maritime anti-smuggling authorities of the General Administration of Customs.

The consolidation has brought 16,300 of the country's maritime law enforcement personnel under one agency, state-run China Daily quoted the SOA officials as saying.

With more countries challenging China's territorial rights in recent years, the country has been strengthening its maritime law enforcement capacity to better safeguard its interests, they said.

Last year, China Maritime Surveillance carried out 36 patrol trips and 402 flights, said the SOA. The patrol trips, which spent 262 days at sea, detected 188 foreign ships and 21 foreign planes that intruded upon China's maritime territory.

After Japan announced its intention to "purchase" and "nationalise" the Islands in September, Chinese fleets were sent out 50 times to patrol the islands' waters.

Besides improving maritime law enforcement, Liu said detention areas will be constructed for ships seized for illegally sailing in Chinese waters.

Qi Jianguo, former Chinese ambassador to Vietnam, said the moves demonstrate China's determination to prepare itself for complicated maritime disputes.

The country's maritime economy is booming and revenues reached USD 871 billion last year, an increase of 7.9 per cent from the previous year, the SOA said.

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