Pentagon sees stronger Chinese presence in disputed seas
Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - June 9, 2014 - 7:51am

MANILA, Philippines — China will grow in presence and strength in the hotly contested East China and South China Seas in the next years as it increases patrol capabilities to assert its maritime claims, the Pentagon said.

In its report to the United States Congress released last week, the US Department of Defense (DoD) said that China Coast Guard's total force is expected to increase by 25 percent as Beijing presses its sovereignty in areas claimed in part by the Philippines.

"China identifies its territorial sovereignty as a core interest and emphasizes its willingness to protect against actions that China perceives challenge Chinese sovereignty," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's office said.

"In the next decade, a new force of civilian maritime ships will afford China the capability to patrol its territorial claims more robustly in the East China and the South China Sea," the report added.

Beijing is keen on showing the world its military capabilities while trying to convince its neighbors and the US that it is rising peacefully.

The Pentagon said that the staggering growth of China's forces concerns the international community due to Xi Jinping's administration's lack of transparency in communicating its intentions.

"China almost certainly wants to assert its maritime dominance without triggering too harsh of a regional backlash," the DoD said.

The defense department also noted that China is carrying out the second phase of its modernization and construction program for its coast guard, most notably in the strategic South China Sea waters.

The first half of the program spanned from 2004 to 2008 when almost 20 ocean-going patrol ships were added to its coast guard.

The second half, meanwhile, is currently being undertaken since 2011 and will last until 2015 with 30 new ships for its maritime defense and surveillance.

"In addition, the [China Coast Guard] will likely build more than 100 new patrol craft and smaller units, both to increase capability and to replace old units," the DoD said.

The agency noted that in 2013, China consolidated four of its maritime law enforcement agencies into its coast guard, tasked to carry out maritime sovereignty enforcement missions, anti-smuggling, maritime rescue and salvage and protecting fisheries resources.

"The enlargement and modernization of China's [maritime law enforcement] forces will improve China's ability to enforce is maritime sovereignty," the report said.

The efforts are backed up by the People's Liberation Army Navy used "as an escalatory measure" while "China's diplomats also apply pressure on rival claimants."

President Aquino and his senior military officials last week expressed concern over new reclamation efforts of China on maritime features claimed by the Philippines as within its exclusive economic zone.

Read: Designs of China's planned base in Spratlys surface

Suspected reclamation activities on Mabini (Johnson South) Reef have earlier been reported, but new movements on Burgos (Gaven) Reef, Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef and Malvar (Eldad) Reef were noted.

Malacañang, meanwhile, discouraged Filipinos from resorting to violent protests and riots against the Asian giant as seen in Vietnam, also a maritime claimant, last month.

Asked about a possible military response, Aquino's deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte reiterated the Philippines’ chosen track was "not (to) respond to provocative action” and to “always exhaust the diplomatic channels, as well as other legal means that can help us address this particular issue."

Also read: Philippines won't respond to any provocative actions by China

ABIGAIL VALTE BEIJING CHINA CHINA COAST GUARD DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE DESIGNS OF CHINA EAST CHINA AND SOUTH CHINA SEAS EAST CHINA AND THE SOUTH CHINA SEA MARITIME
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