KEY POINTS

  • Chinese state media said Haixun 90 would help protect its maritime rights
  • Analysts think it will help China assert its control in the South China Sea
  • The vessel can operate in the open seas without refueling for 90 days

China launched its largest civilian patrol boat, named Haixun 09, Saturday to protect its maritime claims. Experts think deploying the mammoth vessel will help China assert its control in the South China Sea, including enforcing navigational rules. 

The 10,000-ton vessel was commissioned under the Maritime Safety Administration of the Guangdong province, which oversees the South China Sea, reported South China Morning Post.

The report, quoting state-backed China Central Television, said Haixun 09, with its 10,700-tonne displacement, is also the most advanced ship in the civilian fleet. It has been equipped with water cannons, an aerial tracking system, medical rescue capabilities, and a helicopter landing deck.

The vessel will serve as a mobile law enforcement platform for maritime patrols, said state media reports. 

Collin Koh, a research fellow from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told South China Morning Post that the MSA seemed to be upgrading its emergency response fleet as part of an inter-service rivalry with the coastguard. 

"Overall, this will lend to the effect of helping China assert its control in the area, including enforcing navigational rules vis-à-vis foreign vessels,” Koh said. 

According to state-backed Global Times, the vessel will ensure smooth transportation of strategic goods and the safety of important shipping lanes. The reports added Haixun could also support the development of the shipping industry while also mentioning the mammoth vessel's role in safeguarding China's maritime rights and interests.  

But, a former PLA officer Yue Gang has warned about the deployment of Haixun 09, saying "it should be more geared toward civilian uses.

"If Haixun 09 is sent to the area but does not take enforcement action against rival claimants such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines in areas China claims for itself, then it would undermine Beijing’s authority," Yue told South China Morning Post. 

"But, if the patrol boat took action, then it could lead to an international confrontation, something that China did not want," Yue warned. 

Yue thinks the vessels can be dispatched to places like the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea for a symbolic tour, "passing neighboring countries and showing off China’s maritime power and capabilities. "But I don’t think it’s the time yet for a permanent long-term deployment," Yue added.

The work on the ship started in May 2019. It has a total length of 165 meters, a width of 20.6 meters, a depth of 9.5 meters, and a full displacement of about 13,000 tons. 

The vessel can also operate in the open seas far beyond the coastal region, with a maximum of 90 days without being resupplied with fuel and food. 

Chinese vessel in the South China Sea Representation. A Chinese vessel in South China Sea Photo: REUTERS