China begins cross-province patrol in disputed South China Sea

Beijing (China Daily/ANN) - China is strengthening its offshore law enforcement capacity, with three provinces and one autonomous region launching their first joint patrol in the South China Sea on Wednesday.

The five-day patrol fleet consists of ships from the maritime safety administrations of Guangxi, Guangdong, Fujian and Hainan. Haixun 31, one of China's largest patrol ships, is also part of the fleet.

An official surnamed Song from the Maritime Safety Administration said the cross-province patrol will become a regular occurrence to enhance the offshore supervision capacity, but revealed no details about future patrol plans.

At present, the Maritime Safety Administration will arrange two or three patrols in the South China Sea aimed at preventing illegal activities including discharging excessive pollutants into the sea.

Shen Chunsheng, deputy director of the Guangxi Maritime Safety Administration, said the joint patrol is expected to travel nearly 1,000 kilometres to detect pollution discharged by ships.

The joint patrol will strengthen law enforcement capacity in the South China Sea to guarantee maritime safety, Shen added.

It is the latest move the country has taken to strengthen supervision of the South China Sea.

On Tuesday, the State Council approved a marine zoning plan for the southern provinces of Guangdong and Hainan before 2020, emphasising offshore law enforcement capacity in both plans.

President Hu Jintao emphasised that the country's maritime interests should be strongly protected, as he opened the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China yesterday.

China is preparing itself to deal with complicated marine disputes.

On July 24, Sansha city, Hainan province, the country's newest city, was established on Yongxing Island to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and their surrounding waters.

Another 36 inspection ships are expected to join the China Marine Surveillance fleet by 2013.

An insider told China Daily that a high-level maritime interests protection office was established recently with heads of the related ministries or administrations on board.

Sea disputes between China and other countries have surged this year.

The Philippines and Vietnam have tried to expand their sovereignty claim over the islands in the South China Sea, and tension in the area has not been helped by the presence of United States aircraft carriers and the announcement in October that US ships will travel through the South China Sea in order to pay a visit to the Philippines.

In April, despite strong opposition from China, Vietnam granted the Oil and Natural Gas Corp Videsh of India oil exploration rights in the South China Sea.

Li Jieyu, a political studies researcher at Hainan Provincial Party School, has previously told China Daily that although China is facing increasingly complicated sea disputes, the country has always shown the utmost restraint when dealing with them. Li also said China should pay more attention to safeguarding its maritime sovereignty and stand firm on issues concerning sovereignty.

Qi Jianguo, the former Chinese ambassador to Vietnam, said that the island dispute shows how urgent it is that China strengthening its maritime law enforcement capacity.

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