China is reportedly building a 10,000-ton class marine surveillance vessel, the largest of its kind in the world, amid the country's buildup of its maritime law enforcement force against the backdrop of territorial disputes at sea.
Analysts said the ship, with a higher continuous voyage capability than current Chinese ships, could better cope with conditions in the South China Sea and safeguard the country's maritime interests.
According to a Tuesday report by the Beijing Times, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) recently said on its official website that it signed contracts in 2013 to build two kinds of marine surveillance ships, one of them 10,000 tons.
However, the information was no longer available on the company's website on Tuesday.
CSIC's spokesman Liu Zhengguo Tuesday declined to confirm the news to the Global Times, saying it would take days to verify the information.
If confirmed, the vessel under construction would surpass Japan Coast Guard's two 6,500-ton vessels to be the world's largest patrol ship.
The China Coast Guard's (CCG) largest patrol ships in service have a tonnage of 4,000.
China Ocean News reported Tuesday that a 5,000-ton class patrol ship will be deployed to the waters around Sansha, China's newest city, set up to consolidate the country's claim over the South China Sea.
Li Daguang, a professor at the National Defense University of the People's Liberation Army, said that building large tonnage vessels has become a trend in shoring up China's maritime strength, as the fleet of the patrol ships used to be made up of outdated vessels as well as retired warships, which were refitted.
Liu Cigui, head of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), last week told a national maritime work conference that 20 new patrol vessels are under construction.
It is not clear to which area the 10,000-ton vessel allegedly under construction would be commissioned.
Wang Xiaopeng, a maritime border expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that as its continuous voyage capability is expected to be over 10,000 nautical miles, the ship will be able to carry out cross-sea patrols.
Yu Zhirong, a retired official from the maritime law enforcement authority in the East China Sea, told the Global Times the ship is more likely to be deployed in the South China Sea, given the absence of relay stations in the vast waters.
"With abundant supplies and fuel, it would be able to carry out enduring surveillance tasks," said Yu.
Wang shared similar sentiments, noting most of the illegal oil exploitation by foreign countries takes place in waters far away from China's coastal areas.
The expert estimated that the large vessel will be equipped with at least two planes and several boats. "Entering November, the disputed waters become choppy, therefore, only ships above 1,000 tons could sail to the high seas. Meanwhile, the boats attached to the large ship could enter the lagoons for patrol," he said.
Wang also noted that the 10,000-ton vessel could serve as both "shield and sword" in safeguarding China's maritime rights.
According to him, the large ship could more effectively drive away armed foreign fishing boats, which operate in waters claimed by China, and carry out close-up surveillance on offshore oil platforms set up by foreign countries.
Tensions have been running high between Beijing and Tokyo over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, while China is also locked in disputes on the South China Sea with some Southeast Asian countries.
At last week's maritime work conference, Liu, the SOA head, named the major goals set for this year, including fostering the "combat capability" of the CCG, which was established last July.
He also vowed to strengthen the Chinese maritime law enforcement force's regular presence at sea and deepen the CCG and military's coordination in their maritime operations.