China's government has passed new guidelines requiring civilian shipbuilders to ensure their vessels can be used by the military in the event of conflict, state-run media said on Thursday.
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The regulations "will enable China to convert the considerable potential of its civilian fleet into military strength", it said.
China's government will cover the costs of the plan, it added.
China has rapidly expanded its navy in recent years, commissioning its first aircraft carrier in 2012 and adding to its submarine and surface fleets.
The increased military spending comes as Beijing asserts its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, where it has disputes with several Asian neighbours.
"Naval warfare requires the mobilisation and deployment of a large number of ships," the China Daily quoted army researcher Cao Weidong as saying.
"It is a common practice that shipbuilders reserve some military application platforms on their civilian vessels so they can serve the navy in wartime," he said.
"The new standards will help translate the private shipbuilding sector's strength into military prowess."
China said last month it will project its military power further beyond its borders at sea and more assertively in the air, defending the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea which sparked concerns in Washington.
BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese government has approved a plan requiring civilian shipbuilders to ensure that new ships can be used by the military during an emergency, a state-run newspaper said on Thursday.
The plan will "enable China to convert the considerable potential of its civilian fleet into military strength", said the China Classification Society, a shipping industry association, reported the official China Daily.
It will also improve the People's Liberation Army's "strategic projection and maritime support capabilities", the report added.
"Modern naval warfare often requires the mobilization and deployment of a large number of ships while the mass production of naval ships in peacetime is not economically sensible," said Cao Weidong, a researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute in the newspaper.
"Therefore, it is a common practice that shipbuilders reserve some military application platforms on their civilian vessels so they can serve the navy in wartime."
The Technical Standards for New Civilian Ships to Implement National Defense Requirements is the result of a five-year research project by the shipping body and the military, the paper said.
It includes five types of ship - container, roll-on/roll-off, multipurpose, bulk carrier and break bulk, the paper said.
Other countries have in the recent past used their civilian shipping fleet to help in military emergencies, including Britain during the Falklands War in 1982.
China has ramped up defense spending to modernize its forces, the world's largest, which are gaining experience in operating far from its coast, especially the navy.
In a defense strategy paper last month, China vowed to continue growing its "open seas protection" and criticized neighbors who take "provocative actions" on its reefs and islands.
China's increasingly assertive moves to press sovereignty claims in the East and South China Sea have rattled the region 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.
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