BEIJING • China has appointed a new naval chief, reported state media yesterday.
The new People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy commander is Lieutenant-Admiral Shen Jinlong, who led the country's South Sea fleet, reported the China Daily.
The change comes at a time when China's rapid military development has alarmed its neighbours, particularly the expansion of its naval fleet to back its growing assertiveness over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
No formal announcement was made, but a statement on the Ministry of Defence website used the new title for Lt-Adm Shen.
In 2014, he led several Chinese warships at the Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) international maritime exercises around the Hawaiian islands, the first time that China had participated in large-scale United States-led naval drills.
Later, he made an official military visit to San Diego.
Now 60, he replaces outgoing naval commander Wu Shengli, 71, who was described by another state-run paper, the Global Times, as having stepped down after reaching retirement age.
Mr Wu still retains his position on the powerful Central Military Commission, the China Daily said, while adding that his new duties were unclear.
As part of its fleet-building efforts, state media have said, the PLA Navy commissioned 18 ships last year, including missile destroyers, corvettes and guided missile frigates, and it has said that it is building a second aircraft carrier.
Regional naval officials say Chinese ships now increasingly track and shadow US and Japanese warships in the contested South China and East China seas, even during routine deployments.
Beijing claims almost all of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the disputed waters.
Vice-Admiral Anuwi Hassan, the deputy chief of Malaysia's navy, said yesterday that the navy is placing the South China Sea under key radar surveillance, reported Bernama.