(AP) A top Chinese commander has ordered the country's rapidly growing navy to accelerate training and technical upgrades to boost its war-fighting readiness as it faces a "complicated and difficult" security environment.
Gen. Fan Changlong was quoted Friday as saying the navy needs to respond immediately to threats and be capable of fighting and winning under modern conditions. Naval capabilities were vital to safeguarding China's sovereignty, security and development interests, Fan said.
"Focus on responding to the complicated and difficult situation, grasp hold of the outstanding problems and points of weakness, accelerate advancing all forms of preparation for fighting at sea," Fan said.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Fan made the remarks Thursday during an inspection tour of a navy unit in Guangdong province, which lies on the disputed South China Sea.
China's massive naval upgrade is seen as spurred in part by Beijing's desire to put teeth into its claims over virtually the entire South China Sea. Beijing also recently reorganized its coast guard to streamline its command structure, and is rapidly adding new ships to the force.
China's navy has benefited greatly from China's booming military spending, now the world's second largest after the United States. It has commissioned its first aircraft carrier, a refurbished Russian model, and is building new destroyers, frigates and submarines.
Other claimants to South China Sea territory, mainly Vietnam and the Philippines, also have been upgrading their naval forces and coast guards.
China also is involved in a dispute with Japan over unoccupied islands in the East China Sea, and the Chinese navy has increasingly been used to safeguard Beijing's economic interests, such as vital Middle East oil shipments.