China gains semi-submersible ship for South China Sea fleet

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has added a semi-submersible ship to its naval fleet to strengthen the country's presence in the disputed South China Sea, state television reported on Friday.

The ship, which bears the number 868, can be used to transport small vessels and as a temporary dock to repair damaged naval ships, according to the official microblog of China Central Television (CCTV).

The ship is the first of its type to join China's South China Sea fleet according to the TV station. It could be used in conducting large-scale landings in the event of conflict in the Taiwan Strait, and as a mobile base in the South China Sea, according to a report on Chinese news website Sina.

China has ramped up defense spending in recent years to modernize its military forces, the world's largest.

China is also aiming to develop an ocean-going "blue water" navy capable of defending the growing interests of the world's second-largest economy as it take a more assertive stance in territorial disputes in the South and East China seas.

China's increasingly assertive moves to press sovereignty claims in regional waters have rattled its neighbors and aroused concern in Washington, although the country says it has no hostile intent.

China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Tom Hogue)