China navy gets new "stealth frigate": State media

BEIJING (AFP) - China's navy has taken delivery of a new type of stealth frigate that is expected to bolster the country's maritime defences amid territorial disputes, state media reported on Tuesday.

The ship, identified by the official Xinhua news agency as a "Type 056 stealth frigate", was delivered to the navy on Monday afternoon in a ceremony in Shanghai.

Navy commander Wu Shengli emphasised the importance of mastering its equipment and capabilities amid ongoing maritime disputes, according to a front-page article on Tuesday in the PLA Daily newspaper, published by the People's Liberation Army.

Wu, also a member of the Communist Party's powerful Central Military Commission, called for continuous improvement and growth of an elite naval force capable of fighting and winning so as to reassure Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other members of the commission.

In January state media reported that the armed forces were instructed to raise their fighting ability in 2013 and "focus closely on the objective of being able to fight and win battle".

President Hu Jintao, set to step down next month and be replaced by Mr Xi, said in November at a Communist Party congress that China should become a "maritime power".

Tuesday's report did not specify the ship's size, but said it possesses "good stealth performance and electromagnetic compatibility" and needed just one-third the number of crew members as its predecessor, the Type 053.

The report said the new ship symbolises the start of a transformation in China's naval defence strength and more of the ships are in production.

The vessels will mainly be used for escort missions and anti-submarine operations, it added.

China is involved in a sovereignty dispute with Japan over Japanese-administered uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Tensions have risen in recent months, with both sides scrambling jets to ward off moves by the other, and fishing boats and government patrol ships playing cat-and-mouse in the vicinity of the islands.

Japan alleged earlier this month that a Chinese frigate locked its weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer in what it characterised as a dangerous escalation. Beijing denied the charge.

Beijing is also at odds with several Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, over islands in the South China Sea.