China commissions new stealth frigate: State media

BEIJING (AFP) - China's navy has commissioned a new type of stealth frigate that is expected to strengthen the country's defences amid maritime territorial rows, state media said on Tuesday.

"The country's first Type 056 stealth frigate, formerly known simply as ship 582, was renamed Bengbu at a commission ceremony" at a naval port in eastern Zhejiang province, the Xinhua news agency reported.

It will be used mainly for escort missions and anti-submarine operations and requires a crew just a third the size of its predecessor, the Type 053, according to Xinhua.

When the navy took delivery of the frigate late last month, Commander Wu Shengli was reported as stressing the importance of mastering its equipment and capabilities amid ongoing maritime disputes.

President Hu Jintao, who is set to step down this month, told a Communist Party congress in November that China should become a "maritime power".

China is involved in a sovereignty dispute with Japan over Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea and is also at odds with several Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, over islands in the South China Sea.

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