BEIJING Jan 21 China will base a 5,000-tonne
civilian patrol ship on one of the main islands it controls in
the disputed South China Sea and begin regular patrols, an
official newspaper said on Tuesday, a move likely to add fuel to
territorial disputes with neighbours.
The China Ocean News, published by the State Oceanic
Administration, said the ship would be based on Woody Island,
which China calls Sansha city, on the Paracel Islands.
China will "gradually establish a regular patrol system on
Sansha city to jointly protect the country's maritime
interests", the report added. It will continue to build
infrastructure on the island as well as a "joint platform for
sharing maritime security data", it said.
China is in an increasingly angry dispute with its
neighbours over claims to parts of the potentially oil and
gas-rich South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole
of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.
It upset the Philippines and the United States this month
when rules went into force demanding fishing boats seek
permission to enter waters under the jurisdiction of China's
southern province of Hainan, an area the provincial government
says covers much of the South China Sea.
Chinese patrols in the South China Sea are generally
conducted by civilian vessels, though China's navy routinely
carries out drills there, including late last year by the
country's first aircraft carrier.
The newspaper did not say when the patrols would begin,
though said one of their focuses would be on search and rescue
operations and the "speedy, orderly and effective emergency
response to sudden incidents at sea".
China formally approved the establishment of a military
garrison in Sansha two years ago. Sansha administers the mostly
uninhabited islands in the South China Sea which China claims.
China took full control of the Paracels - a cluster of close
to 40 islets, outcrops and reefs - in 1974 after a naval
showdown with the then South Vietnam, and there have been
incidents ever since. Taiwan also claims the Paracels.
Vietnam has accused China of harassing and even opening fire
on fishing boats near the Paracels, charges Beijing has either
denied or defended as a legitimate means of protecting its
Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also
claim other parts of the South China Sea, including the Spratly
Islands. China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Huang Yan; Editing by Nick