China has launched a new intelligence gathering ship in the latest addition to the country’s growing navy fleet.
The official China Daily reported the new ship arrived to join other military support vessels Tuesday in the eastern port of Qingdao. It will support China’s North Sea Fleet.
The newspaper said China’s navy now operates six electronic reconnaissance vessels. It noted that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “has never made public so many details about its intelligence collection ships.”
It added that the new vessel “is capable of conducting all-weather, round-the-clock reconnaissance on multiple and different targets.”
The ship launch comes as China has increased its patrols in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Regional navy officials have reported Chinese ships are increasingly following vessels – including U.S. and Japanese warships - passing through the area.
China claims most of the South China Sea, an important waterway through which more than $5 trillion worth in trade passes each year. The area contains rich fishing grounds and is believed to hold oil and natural gas. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have claims to the sea.
Other claimants and the United States have criticized China for creating man-made islands in the disputed area. Recently released satellite images also appear to show that China had added weapons to some of the islands.
On Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, the nominee for U.S. Secretary of State, called on China to stop building more islands. He added that, “access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”
China has refused to accept the ruling of an international court last year that rejected its “historical” claims to large areas of the sea. The Philippines brought the case to the court.
Chinese officials have said they want to settle disputes in the South China Sea through direct talks with other claimants.
As part of its latest navy buildup, China has also said it is working to complete the country’s second aircraft carrier. China currently only has one carrier – its Soviet-built Liaoning vessel.
China's Liaoning aircraft carrier with accompanying fleet conducts a drill in an area of South China Sea, in this undated photo taken December 2016.
Earlier this week, China said it had sent its Liaoning carrier into the Taiwan Strait to join military exercises in a nearby area. The 160-kilometer strait separates Taiwan from southeastern China.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had kept an eye on the carrier and found that it had not entered Taiwanese waters.
A Chinese spokesman said it was “very normal” for the Liaoning to pass though international waters as part of drills.
(Voice of America)