China needs to get better at responding to threats and provocations at sea as it becomes a stronger coastal power, a maritime surveillance official wrote in an commentary published today.
China is acting quickly on calls made during the Communist Party’s congress in November to exert more maritime power, said the op-ed, published on the website of the state-owned Global Times newspaper. Yesterday, naval vessels reached a shoal at the southern edge of the country’s claimed territory and pledged to defend Chinese sovereignty.
Today’s essay follows broader Chinese moves to assert its claims more forcefully in the South and East China Seas, where it’s engaged in disputes with countries including Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan. China has sent air and sea patrols and conducted military exercises across those areas in recent months as it presses its claims.
“The 18th Party Congress report clearly pointed out the strategic intention and task of ’building a strong maritime country,’ making a strong call for the Chinese people’s control of the ocean,” the commentary said. The author was identified as China Marine Surveillance agency official Gao Zhengqi.
Four ships from the navy’s Nanhai Fleet arrived yesterday at Zengmu Reef, the southernmost reach of China’s national territory, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Troops on the ships took an oath saying they’re “determined to safeguard the country’s sovereignty with their services on the South China Sea,” Xinhua reported.
Zengmu Reef, also known as James Shoal, is located about 110 kilometers (68 miles) from the coast of Malaysia, which also claims it. The shoal is about 1,800 kilometers from the Chinese mainland.
“China has made important contributions to maintaining peace and security in the South China Sea,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing today. “The patrolling is China’s exercising its sovereignty and inherent rights.”
Yesterday’s visit followed a week of drills that included simulated air and submarine attacks as well as “confrontation maneuvers,” Xinhua reported the day before.
Chinese marine surveillance ships have conducted patrols in waters surrounding islands in the East China Sea also claimed by Japan. On March 26, China defended its actions after one of its ships fired on a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the South China Sea. Vietnam protested the action, while Hong said earlier this week Vietnam should better educate its fisherman to “stop such illegal activities.”