China has approved a set of technical guidelines to civilian shipbuilders that requires all new vessels built are suitable for military use in an emergency, according to the China Classification Society.

The guidelines – The Technical Standards for New Civilian Ships to Implement National Defence Requirements – cover five categories of vessels: container, roll-on/roll-off, multipurpose, bulk carrier and break bulk.

It lists specifications and design requirements that ensures these civilian vessels can be used for national defence if mobilised, the society said in a statement, China Daily reported.

The guidelines were jointly drawn up by the society's Shanghai Specifications Institute and expects from the People's Liberation Army's Nanjing Military Command. It has been ratified as a national military standard.

The move will enable China to convert its civilian fleet to boost its military strength and will greatly enhance the army's strategic projection and maritime support capabilities, the statement added.

The national legislature will also soon start work on a National Defence Transport Law that offers shipbuilders funds to cover the additional cost of making the vessels suitable for military use, as well as to provide insurance cover for vessel owners should their ships be damaged while under military use, the statement said.

As of the end of last year, China had 172,000 civilian ships.

"Modern naval warfare often requires the mobilisation 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, the newspaper reported.

The guidelines also covers private shipbuilders.

Li Li, a military logistics research at the PLA National Defence University said that Western navies have benefited considerably from their close collaboration with private shipbuilders, noting how the UK requisitioned or refitted a large fleet of civilian ships for the Falklands War.