China has announced plans to start regular civilian patrols of the disputed South China Sea, a move that could further escalate tensions in the region.
A state-run media report Tuesday said a 5,000 ton patrol vessel will be based at what Beijing calls Sansha City in the Paracel Islands, which already hosts a Chinese military garrison.
The China Ocean News says the ship will begin making regular patrols through the waters of the South China Sea, site of territorial disputes between China and four ASEAN nations, including Vietnam.
Hanoi, which recently condemned a new Chinese regulation requiring foreign fishermen to seek Beijing's approval to operate in much of the South China Sea, has not commented on the news.
But Nguyen Nha, an expert on China-Vietnam relations, told VOA's Vietnamese service he is not surprised by Beijing's plan.
"From the early 20th century, China has repeatedly made different statements claiming its sovereignty over all area within the 9-dash line, not just the Paracels. It has done things beneficial to itself. As an emerging power, Beijing needs to maintain order in the region," Nha said.
China took control of the Paracel islands after a bloody naval battle in 1974.
Beijing's claims in the South China Sea overlap with those of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. All four are seeking multilateral talks to resolve the disputes. But Beijing has said it will only hold one-on-one negotiations.
The United States says it does not take a position on the sovereignty disputes, but has consistently criticized Chinese moves it calls aggressive. Washington has also expanded military alliances with Southeast Asian nations involved in the disputes.
(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.)