China Sends Patrol Ship, Yuzheng 311, to South China Sea

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China has dispatched a retired Chinese navy rescue vessel, the China Yuzheng 311, to patrol the South China Sea where last week the USNS Impeccable was harrassed by five chinese vessels, an incident that has sparked much debate over the area.  AFP tells us:

BEIJING (AFP) — China has dispatched its most modern patrol ship to the South China Sea, state press said Sunday, after an incident with a US naval vessel and a fresh claim by the Philippines to the disputed territory.

The Beijing News said the vessel would conduct patrols of what it called China’s exclusive maritime zone in the disputed waters surrounding the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

It said the converted naval rescue ship would aid Chinese fishing boats and transport vessels.

The Philippines passed a law last week which lays claim to disputed islands in the Spratlys chain that are also claimed by China. Beijing has called the law “illegal and invalid.”

Tensions in the area rose further when the United States sent destroyers to international waters off southern China to protect a naval surveillance patrol that was involved in a stand off with Chinese vessels.

China says the US patrol vessels were within its 200-kilometre (125-mile) economic exclusive zone, but the United States has insisted they were in international waters.

The Spratly and Paracel island chains have been flashpoints for years.

The Spratlys are claimed in full or part by China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and the Paracels are claimed by China, which now occupies them, as well as by Vietnam and Taiwan.

The region is believed to have large oil and natural gas reserves that straddle sea lanes and rich fishing grounds.

More on this story at BBC and UPI