China announced it is expanding its surveillance fleet to better protect its interests in the South China Sea, where Beijing's aggressive moves have already raised concern among its Asian neighbors.
China's lack of surveillance ships has recently made it difficult for the country to protect its maritime rights, and three dozen vessels will be added to the fleet, an unnamed official with the State Oceanic Administration was quoted as saying in Thursday's edition of the official China Daily newspaper.
Several Asian countries have expressed concern over China's recent maritime moves, including its response to a ship collision last month off disputed islands in the East China Sea that plunged relations between China and Japan to a five-year low.
Relations have since improved, but both countries continue to claim sovereignty over the territory, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
It is one of several territorial spats straining China's ties with its Asian neighbors. Other disputed island chains include the Spratly and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea _ claimed by China and several of its Southeast Asian neighbors.
Washington has voiced concern that territorial disputes in the South China Sea could imperil strategic international shipping lanes and signaled it would back regional allies including Japan if tensions were to escalate.
The China Daily said one ship was added to China's surveillance fleet on Tuesday and another 36 would be added at an unspecified later date.
Phone calls to the State Oceanic Administration and the Maritime Safety Administration, two of a handful of departments that jointly manage China's maritime affairs, rang unanswered Thursday.