BEIJING, June 16, 2011 (AFP) - China said Thursday it had sent a maritime patrol vessel to the disputed waters of the South China Sea but insisted it remains committed to peace in the region despite tensions with its neighbours.
Beijing had pledged it would not resort to force to resolve lingering maritime territorial disputes, after the Philippines this week sought help from the United States.
"On June 15, the ... ship from the Maritime Safety Administration of Guangdong left for Singapore for a regular visit," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists.
"China has been committed to resolve disputes over the South China Sea through direct negotiations with the parties concerned... we also remain committed to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea."
State press said the Haixun 31 was China's largest maritime patrol ship. It is outfitted with a helicopter and capable of staying at sea for up to 40 days.
In order to get to Singapore, the vessel must traverse the South China Sea, which is home to two potentially oil-rich archipelagos, the Paracels and Spratlys.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have competing claims to the Spratlys. Beijing and Hanoi are at odds over the Paracels.
The area has commercial shipping lanes that are vital for global trade.
Tensions between China and other rival claimants have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam in particular expressing alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed waters.