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China set to step up offshore military capabilities

China has announced a change in military strategy, which will see it boost its naval capacities farther beyond its shores. This comes amid tensions in the South China Sea, where there are competing territorial claims.

A policy white paper unveiled by China's Cabinet, the State Council, on Tuesday, said that in future, the People's Liberation Army would place a greater emphasis on "open seas protection" as opposed to "offshore waters defense" alone.

It also said China's air force would shift its focus "from territorial air defense to both defense and offense," while at the same time the army would implement measures to increase its global mobility. Artillery forces are also to increase their capabilities to launch "medium and long-range precision strikes."

The paper was unveiled at a time whenBeijing and Washington have been at loggerheads over China's land-reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The archipelago has long been the subject of a territorial dispute, as not only China, but also the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei claim it as their own.

A spokesman for China's Defense Ministry rejected US criticism over its activities in the South China Sea, saying these were comparable to the construction of houses or roads on the mainland.

"From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference," Yang Yujun told a news briefing in Beijing.

US surveillance flight 'highly dangerous'

Last Friday, Beijing criticized Washington after a US surveillance plane flew over areas near where the land reclamation is being conducted, describing the flight as "highly irresponsible and dangerous," while warning that such actions would spark "unwanted incidents."

Tuesday's white paper did not refer to the United States specifically, but spoke of "some external countries" meddling in South China Sea affairs and "constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China."

Yang, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said China would continue to respond with "necessary measures."

pfd/ng (Reuters, AFP)

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