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.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry