BEIJING, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- China, locked in an escalating territorial dispute with Japan in the East China Sea, made two announcements relating to its claims to the South China Sea.
In the first, the official Xinhua News Agency reported a People's Liberation Army Navy fleet, which included the missile destroyer Qingdao and missile frigates Yantai and Yancheng, concluded "patrol and training missions in the country's territorial waters in the South China Sea." The fleet then entered the West Pacific through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines' Luzon Island "to continue its maritime training."
The report said during its patrol of the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters, the fleet maintained "a high level of combat readiness and carried out drills related to expelling ships that infringe on China's territorial waters."
The Nansha Islands are Chinese names for part of the disputed islands that include the Spratlys in the South China, which are also claimed by Vietnam. As free passage through the sea lanes are critical for global commerce, China's aggressive claims to vast regions of sea, given its growing military might, have become a source of major international concern. Many smaller neighboring countries including Vietnam and the Philippines also have overlapping claims.
China's military already has deployed a PLA garrison to guard the disputed islands.
In the other announcement, Wu Zhuang, head of the South China Sea Fishery Bureau in the Ministry of Agriculture, said China will conduct daily fishery administrative patrols in the sea in 2014 to "better safeguard the legitimate interests of domestic fishermen," Xinhua reported.
Wu said because of more frequent patrols no Chinese vessels numbering more than 400 "engaging in normal fishery operations in the Nansha waters were illegally seized by foreign countries last year."
Starting this year, Chinese police on the island province of Hainan have been authorized to board vessels that "illegally" enter its "waters" as part of an effort to "protect the South China Sea." The province administers about 722,000 square miles of the South China Sea.
Last year, China set off a big controversy with its new passports, with maps showing the disputed regions in the South China Sea as its territory.
Li Keqiang, the new Chinese vice premier who is expected to take over from outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao next month, urged China's State Oceanic Administration marine surveillance staff Thursday to intensify law enforcement in China's sea territory to safeguard the nation's marine interests, Xinhua reported.
"Supervising and governing seas under the jurisdiction of China is the main responsibility of Chinese marine surveillance staff," said Li, who is also one of the seven members of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
Xinhua quoted Li as saying the Jiaolong, China's manned submersible, can reach more than 22,960 feet below the sea. He also praised the Kunlun Station, China's third station in the antarctic.