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As tensions grow over local maritime disputes and U.S. influence in the South China Sea, China’s president said Tuesday that its navy should “make extended preparations for military combat,” the AFP reported.
President Hu Jintao told the Central Military Commission its navy should modernize in the interest of national security.
The Chinese navy has grown in recent years from a coastal protection force to one spanning the globe, sending ships as far as the Caribbean on goodwill missions and into the Mediterranean to escort vessels evacuating Chinese citizens from the fighting in Libya.
China said it is considering an offer from the Seychelles to host Chinese naval ships in the Indian Ocean island nation, highlighting the increasing global reach of a navy that recently launched its first aircraft carrier.
The navy also began sea trials in August for its first aircraft carrier, the former Soviet Varyag, towed from Ukraine in 1998 minus its engines, weaponry and navigation systems. China says the carrier is intended for research and training, leading to speculation that it plans to build future copies.
China’s military expansion and strong assertions of claims to disputed territory have raised regional concerns, prompting many of China’s neighbors to strengthen ties with the U.S. military that has traditionally predominated in the Asia Pacific.
While Beijing has tried to assuage those concerns, it has also asserted its claims with patrols and other physical displays, and on Tuesday dispatched its largest coast guard cutter to the East China Sea.
The 322-foot Haijian will visit Chinese rock outcroppings as well as a gas field claimed by China and Japan. There was no indication it planned to visit other islands that Japan controls but China claims.
George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, downplayed Hu’s comments, saying China has the right to develop its military, according to the report. But he went on to say China should be transparent in the process.
“We have repeatedly called for transparency from the Chinese and that’s part of the relationship we’re continuing to build with the Chinese military,” Little said, according to the report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.