|A PLAN fleet heads for the West Pacific|
As it becomes more mature and self-confident, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in recent years has held exercises at sea with increased frequency, and further out in the West Pacific. In 2012 alone, it held seven such drills beyond the first island chain, with surface ships and submarines often passing through channels that lie close to the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islets, its warships have held various drills in waters in Taiwan’s rear. While China seeks to position itself as an ocean-going navy to protect its maritime interests and territorial integrity, its efforts continue for the most part to be marred by a lack of transparency, which only serves to aliment fears with its neighbors. That might be about to change.
Last week, China embarked on its first naval exercises of 2013, amid rising tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over an island row in the East China Sea. The Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced on January 30 that despite the tensions, it would proceed with a scheduled deep-water series of navy drills in the West Pacific in early February.
Three vessels from the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet — the Type 052 guided-missile destroyer Qingdao, and two Type 054A missile frigates, the Yantai and Yancheng, left the port of Qingdao on January 29th on their way to conduct exercises in the Pacific. State-run Xinhua news agency said the vessels would conduct as many as 20 drills simulating maritime confrontation, open-sea mobile combat, law enforcement missions and open-sea naval commanding, in a large body of international water including the Yellow, East and South China seas, the Miyako Strait, the Bashi Channel, as well as areas north, south and east of Taiwan.
My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.