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More patrol vessels may be sent
By Zhang Xin (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-03-19 07:20

China may convert more retired navy ships into patrol vessels and send them to the South China Sea to strengthen the fishery supervision, an official told China Daily yesterday.

The administration has been facing new "challenges and complications" in supervising China's 3-million-sq-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, Wu Zhuang, director of the Administration of Fishery and Fishing Harbor Supervision of the South China Sea, said.

"Faced with a growing amount of illegal fishing and other countries' unfounded territorial claims of islands in China's EEZ, it has become necessary to step up the fishery administration's patrols to protect China's rights and interests," Wu said.

"China will make the best use of its (retired) naval ships and may also build more fishery patrol ships, depending on the need."

Last Tuesday, the country's largest fishery patrol vessel China Yuzheng 311, converted from a navy ship, was sent to waters around the Nansha, Xisha and Zhongsha islands.

China has recently encountered a series of disputes in the South China Sea.

The US claimed five Chinese ships had harassed its USNS Impeccable in international waters on March 8. But China's Foreign Ministry said the Impeccable was inside China's EEZ and had violated international and Chinese laws.

On March 5, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi landed on Swallow Reef and Ardasier Reef of China's Nansha Islands to claim the islands as Malaysian territory.

The Philippines' President Maria Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed a baseline bill on March 10, claiming Huangyan Island and the Nansha Islands as Filipino territory, despite China's strong protest.

Subsequently, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee Vice-Chairman Li Jianguo postponed a meeting with Arroyo scheduled yesterday.

The meeting was postponed because Li had to attend to urgent domestic matters, the Philippine presidential office's press secretary Cerge Remonde said in a statement.

"We believe the postponement has nothing to do with the baseline law. Our diplomatic relations with China remain strong," he said, adding that Arroyo and Li were supposed to discuss the dispute over Huangyan Island and the nearby Nansha Islands during the meeting.

By press time, the Chinese embassy in the Philippines had not commented.

"The delay of the meeting doesn't necessarily demonstrate China's diplomatic response to the territorial dispute," Wang Yusheng, executive director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the China Foundation for International Studies, said.

But the Philippines should "face reality" and respect China's sovereignty over the South China Sea, Wang added.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang yesterday denied a media report that China considers withdrawing Chinese in the Philippines.

(China Daily 03/19/2009 page2)