Network of ocean patrols will monitor key resources

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 April, 2007, 12:00am

Beijing has set up a network of regular air and sea patrols in the East China Sea to monitor traffic and strengthen its claims over the area - efforts that have already resulted in warnings to several US military vessels surveying the zone.

A State Ocean Administration bulletin said Beijing established the patrols last year to stop other countries charting the area and hampering China's own energy exploration activities.

The report also included pictures of how marine vessels and aircraft were deployed to monitor foreign ships, and claimed that one of their missions was to patrol near the CNOOC-owned Chunxiao gas field to ensure safe exploitation of its resources.

'[We] take action to monitor and expel foreign vessels that survey or explore for oil and gas without approval and those that disturb China's normal oil and gas exploration in our economic zone and continental shelf,' the report said, highlighting inspection crew attempts to warn US military ships to cease surveillance operations in the East China Sea.

The administration said that last year mainland aircraft made 172 patrols totalling 770 hours, while the ships covered 57,875 nautical miles in 34 missions.

'The enforcement of regular patrol missions in the East China Sea reflects our government's capacity and determination in maritime management and defence of the nation's marine sovereignty,' the bulletin said.

The administration said the system was based on last year's Circular on Maritime Administrative Law Enforcement and other relevant laws.

Beijing-based northeast Asia security analyst Gao Haikuan , from the Association for International Friendly Contact, said the inspection system in the East China Sea had plugged holes in marine defences.

'In the past, many international law experts said China could not legitimately charge neighbouring countries with invading its marine sovereignty,' Mr Gao said.

'It was because in the past we lacked a comprehensive law and support structure to deal with marine disputes.'

China has had disagreements over its exclusive economic zone boundaries with several neighbours, including Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, with those conflicts fraying long-term diplomatic ties.

Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based military specialist, said China had learned from Japan to set up a civil coastguard system.

'The inspection team in the East China Sea is similar to Japan's coastguard,' Mr Chang said. 'The system cannot only proclaim and defend ocean sovereignty, but also avoid mobilising military troops to solve arguments when disputes take place.'

China's coastguard was set up in March 1999, with the East China Sea as one of its three main monitoring zones.

It has become one of the powerful civil defence organisations, equipped over the past eight years with a fleet of 34 patrol ships and cutting-edge aircraft.

Sea change

China has stepped up surveillance patrols in the East China Sea to assert its claims in the region.

Number of ships patrolling the area 34




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