China bases advanced rescue ship on Kagitingan Reef — report

MANILA, Philippines — One of China’s most advanced rescue ships is now operating around Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the West Philippine Sea.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), a non-profit news site, reported last week that Nan Hai Jiu 115 was spotted around Kagitingan Reef, one of the areas where China built its man-made islands.

This deployment “reinforces the official narrative that Beijing has benign intentions in its creation of artificial islands and other infrastructure in the South China Sea where its expansive claims are disputed by neighboring nations,” RFA said on March 4.

“The ship could also play a support role for Chinese maneuvers that put pressure on other claimants,” it added.

International maritime security expert Collin Koh was quoted in the report as saying that the presence of China’s rescue ship in the contested area “seeks to demonstrate effective administration over the waters and features it claims in the South China Sea.”

Based on the vessel tracker used by RFA, the rescue ship left the Chinese city of Sanyan in Hainan province on Jan. 10 and entered the Kagitingan Reef on Feb. 19. Since then, it has been patrolling Fiery Cross. It was last detected in the same reef on Feb. 28.

The main reason for the deployment of the ship remained unclear, however. Kagitingan Reef is close to the ongoing stand-off between Chinese coast guard ships and a Malaysian energy exploration team.

The ship is touted as one of Beijing’s “most advanced” ships, capable of emergency medical services, firefighting and oil spill cleanup. It has a heliport that can accommodate medium-sized helicopters.

The Chinese government announced in mid-2018 that the ship will be “permanently stationed” in Zamora (Subi) Reef. Local observers said then that this was part of Beijing’s gray zone strategies — deploying assets without appearing to be directly threatening and as an excuse to conduct surveillance.

READ: Beijing permanently stations rescue ship in Spratlys

China claims nearly all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of its Southeast Asian neighbors the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, all of which have claims in the strategic waterway.

Edited by TSB

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