Beijing set to send advanced carrier to South China Sea amid surge in tensions

South China Sea: More ‘confrontation’ to come predicts expert

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The Hainan, a type 075 amphibious assault ship, has been commissioned by Beijing and is expected to be deployed in the South China Sea. Military experts have suggested the deployment will cause concern with Taiwan and other countries in maritime disputes with China.

Chinese state media outlets reported the vessel was commissioned on Friday by President Xi Jinping.

Reports claimed he attended a ceremony at a naval base in Sanya in Hainan province, where the Hainan was placed into active service.

The assault ship is estimated to have a capacity of 30 helicopters and hundreds of troops.

The Hainan marks Beijing’s most ‘ambitious’ amphibious assault ship with an estimated displacement weight of about 40,000 tonnes, according to reports.

Song Zhongping, Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator and former PLA instructor, told the South China Morning Post the Hainan can carry various types of helicopters, including airborne early warning helicopters.

He added the assault vessel will be serving “under the Southern Theatre Command”, Beijing’s military group operating in the South China Sea.

The expert then told the outlet: “It does not mean it will only be responsible for the South China Sea.

“It will also be used for missions around Taiwan and other cross-theatre command tasks. But presumably it will mainly be for the South China Sea”.

Colin Koh, research fellow from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, also told the outlet the new deployment could scare China’s neighbours into responding to the “widening asymmetry” with Beijing’s military power compared to their own.

In a grim warning about the Hainan, the expert said it can “perform offensive functions – such as capture of terrestrial features in the disputed Spratlys, and in a Taiwan invasion scenario”.

He added: “As far as the region is concerned, given uncertainty over China’s strategic intentions and its proclivity to use military coercion, this vessel will more generally be seen with wariness by regional countries especially those which have territorial and sovereignty disputes with China.”

It comes as the Philippines’ foreign ministry hit out at Beijing after it failed to withdraw what it called on Friday “threatening” vessels that were massing in contested areas of the South China Sea.

Philippine foreign ministry said maritime officials had observed the “continued unauthorised presence and activities” of 160 Chinese fishing and militia vessels around the disputed Spratly islands and Scarborough shoal, as of April 20.

They said: “The continued swarming and threatening presence of the Chinese vessels creates an atmosphere of instability and is a blatant disregard of the commitments by China to promote peace and stability in the region.”

President Rodrigo Duterte also stated he was prepared to send his military ships in the South China Sea to “stake a claim” over oil and mineral resources in the disputed part of the strategic waterway.

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