Friday, June 17, 2011

China stages military drills in South China Sea as tensions mount to dangerous levels

China is staging three days of military exercises in the South China Sea and plans to boost its offshore maritime patrol force, state media said, as tensions with its neighbours simmer.

China has competing claims with Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei over potentially resource-rich areas in the South China Sea which have flared in recent weeks.

Beijing has pledged it will not resort to force to resolve the lingering maritime territorial disputes, after the Philippines this week sought help from the United States and Vietnam staged live-fire military exercises.

According to the Global Times, 14 Chinese navy vessels recently staged drills in waters near China's southern tropical island of Hainan, including anti-submarine manoeuvres and the beach landing of troops.

The exercises in the South China Sea were aimed at "defending atolls and protecting sea lanes," reports said.

The China Maritime Surveillance force meanwhile will be bolstered from the current staff of 9,000 to 15,000 personnel by 2020, the China Daily reported.

The force falls under the State Oceanic Administration, an agency that supervises China's coastline and territorial waters.

The patrol fleet will have 350 vessels by 2015 and 520 by 2020, the report said, citing an unnamed senior China Maritime Surveillance official. It will also have 16 planes by 2015.

Disputes at sea between China and other countries have been on the rise, a State Oceanic Administration report said last month. (read more)

China said Thursday it had dispatched a maritime patrol vessel to disputed South China Sea waters but insisted it was committed to peace in the region.