This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
China has added a new powerful ship to its fleet of maritime patrol vessels in the South China Sea, state media has reported.
The 5,560-ton Hai Xun 03 was launched on Tuesday and will become the largest ocean patrol ship under the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration (MSA),
the official China News Service reported, adding that it would help Hainan authorities to enforce jurisdiction independently.
Hainan is an island province off the south of the mainland, and includes a municipality in the disputed Paracel Islands from which it administers China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Chinese official documents suggest that China regards Hainan’s jurisdiction as covering around two million square kilometers of maritime area, though boundaries are not clearly demarcated and that jurisdiction is not recognized by its neighbors.
According to news reports, the Hai Xun 03 will conduct maritime patrol and law enforcement, search-and-rescue, emergency coordination and command; and prevention and control of ship pollution “in the South China Sea and surrounding waters.”
China claims “historical rights” to most of the South China Sea but its claims are not supported by international law and are widely contested – including its assertion of the right to police disputed seas.
“Besides the coastguard force, the MSA also has a role in fronting China’s maritime sovereignty and rights protection,” notes Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“If Hai Xun 03 is deployed on a regular basis to the Spratlys for example, it won’t be particularly out of the blue since MSA has deployed large patrol vessels before to the area.”
According to Koh, the deployment would “still contribute towards reinforcing the impression that Beijing exercises jurisdiction in the South China Sea, and it contributes to its narrative also about providing so-called ‘common public goods’ to mariners in the area.”
China has invested heavily in patrol vessels and coastguard even as international criticism of its conduct in the South China Sea to assert its sweeping claims there has grown.
The Hai Xun 03 is 128.6 meters long, travels at 20 knots, and has a range of around 10,000 nautical miles. It can also patrol at sea for 60 days without supplies.
The ship has a maritime data center equipped with advanced integrated monitoring systems, according to Chinese media. It’s also designed with a hangar to carry multiple helicopters.
The ship is expected to be officially commissioned in March 2022. China’s maritime surveillance fleet, which far exceeds those of its Southeast Asian neighbors, is estimated at more than 300 vessels but only a handful are above 3,000 tons.