The heart of the South China Sea conflict is a series of artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago built by Beijing. While the US and its Pacific allies have called the islands illegal, China maintains it has the right to build within its territory, and has consistently maintained that the installations will be used primarily for humanitarian purposes.
As part of that promise, Beijing has unveiled its latest China Coast Guard (CCG) ship. Likely to patrol the waters around the Spratlys, the vessel could also be used in search and rescue operations.
The ship’s hull is based on the type 054A Jiangkai II frigates used by the People’s Liberation Army. Both vessels are roughly the same length and have a flight deck and helicopter hangar. The vessels weighs an estimated 3,000-4,000 tons.
The ship is currently unarmed, but can be mounted with 20-30 mm guns, as well as a 76 mm gun in the bow.
A highly contested region through which nearly $5 trillion in trade passes annually, most of the South China Sea is claimed by China, but there are overlapping claims by Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Philippines.
Earlier on Friday, US Senator John McCain argued that the United States should escalate its military efforts in the region.
"We should make it clear that these are international waters and filling in islands is in violation of international law," he said, according to Breaking Defense. "I would like to see both air and ship transiting the areas around these islands as just a normal routine."