- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Just a few week’s after the close encounter between Chinese naval vessels and the USN Impeccable, China has announced that it is converting old ships in order to boos the number of naval patrols in the South China sea:
Wu Zhuang, director of the Administration of Fishery and Fishing Harbour Supervision of the South China Sea, said: “China will make the best use of its naval ships and may also build more fishery patrol ships, depending on the need.”
He did not specify if the boats would be armed when they are sent out into a region of atolls, islands and reefs that are some or all disputed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The boats will be sailing in some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More than half the globe’s oil tanker traffic passes through the South China Sea since it offers the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian oceans for ships bringing energy from the Middle East to China and Japan.
Mr Wu said that the situation in the region was becoming increasingly complicated. "Faced with a growing amount of illegal fishing and other countries’ unfounded territorial claims of islands in China’s exclusive economic zone, it has become necessary to step up the fishery administration’s patrols to protect China’s rights and interests.”
As James Kraska and Brian Wilson wrote on FP‘s The Argument last week, China is currently engaged in a campaign to redefine international law to give it exclusive navigational rights in its "exclusive economic zone". So far, the battles have mostly been fought at international law conferences and symposia, but China seems to be increasingly taking its fight to the high seas.