- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

Chinese military forces are stepping up naval activity at disputed islands in the South China Sea near the Philippines with the deployment of more than a dozen warships over the past several weeks.
The warships are raising tensions with the Manila government because they contradict assurances provided by Beijing that its military would keep its naval vessels away from the area, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
According to classified intelligence reports sent to officials last week, some 12 Chinese ships were spotted in the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea.
The ship deployments included Luhu-class destroyers, said officials familiar with the reports.
The Chinese navy also sent ships to Scarborough Shoal in May, and U.S. officials suspect the Chinese are seeking to build a permanent military site there similar to the structures on Mischief Reef, farther south.
According to U.S. officials, China stepped up its presence near the shoal on May 18, when two Chinese warships and a "research" vessel believed to be an intelligence gathering ship were spotted.
It was the first time Chinese ships were seen in the area, and their presence contradicted assurances provided to the Philippines government in April by a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official, U.S. intelligence personnel said. Chinas Fu Ying told members of the Philippines government in early April that Beijing was not seeking to establish a military presence at Scarborough, U.S. officials said.
U.S. intelligence believes the Chinese are following the same pattern used in occupying Mischief Reef. First, fishing vessels are sent to the area, and then later warships are deployed.
In addition to building a military structure on Mischief Reef, China has also occupied and erected military installations on Fiery Cross Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Johnson Reef, the officials said.
The Chinese military occupation of the disputed Spratly Islands which are claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei — is part of Beijings strategy of expanding its sovereignty claims further from its coasts as part of what U.S. military intelligence officials have said is an "island chain" strategy.
The strategy involves a gradual expansion of military control of areas progressively outward from Chinas coast in a bid to establish Beijings hegemony over the vital South China Sea, which is important for trade and commercial links in the region.
The deployments at Scarborough Shoal included Jianghu-class frigates that are part of a special unit of seven ships with Chinas South China Sea fleet that are used for longer-range operations.
The shoal is a rocky outcrop off the western coast of the main Philippine island of Luzon and has been contested by China and the Philippines. Manila lodged a protest with Beijing in April over the incursion of Chinese fishing boats near Scarborough Shoal.
Last year, a Chinese fisherman was fatally shot during a confrontation with the Philippines military.
China also upgraded its communications facilities on Mischief Reef earlier this year, according to U.S. officials. U.S. reconnaissance flights have been monitoring the area and are watching to see if China installs surface-to-air missiles there.
China recently deployed HY-2 Seersuckers missiles on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the middle of the South China Sea, according to U.S. officials.
An Asian diplomat said the Chinese militarys South China Sea forces have a reputation for being among the most aggressive of Chinas military forces and are pushing to expand Chinese power in the region.

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