Chinese ships patrol disputed Zengmu Shoal

PROVOCATIVE::Officers and soldiers on the vessels held a ceremony close to the shoal in which they swore to protect China’s sovereignty, in an act likely to irk rival claimants

Reuters, BEIJING

Mon, Jan 27, 2014 - Page 6

Three Chinese ships yesterday patrolled the James Shoal (Zengmu Shoal, 曾母暗沙), an area that is also claimed by Taiwan and Malaysia, as soldiers and officers on board swore to safeguard China’s sovereignty over the disputed island in the latest sign of Beijing’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea.

The group was made up of an amphibious landing craft, the Changbaishan, and two destroyers, Xinhua news agency said.

“During the ceremony held in the Zengmu Reef area, soldiers and officers aboard swore an oath of determination to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and maritime interests,” Xinhua said.

The news agency said that fleet commander Jiang Weilie “urged soldiers and officers to always be prepared to fight, improve combat capabilities and lead the forces to help build the country into a maritime power.”

China is in an increasingly angry dispute with its neighbors over claims to parts of the potentially oil and gas-rich South China Sea. China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.

Beijing regards the shoal as the southernmost part of its territory.

In March last year, Malaysia protested against the incursion of four Chinese ships into waters around the shoal, about 80km off Sarawak on Borneo Island. Chinese sailors fired guns in the air during the visit.

In April, a Chinese maritime surveillance ship returned to the shoal to leave behind steel markers to assert Beijing’s claim.

China upset the Philippines and the US this month when it enacted rules demanding fishing boats seek permission to enter waters under the jurisdiction of China’s southern Hainan Province, an area the provincial government says covers much of the South China Sea.

Taiwan, China, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines are also embroiled in territorial spats over other parts of the South China Sea, as well as islands in the East China Sea.