China shows off naval strength with major maritime exercise
Kenji Fujimoto was accepted into Kim Jong-il's inner circle during a 13-year stint serving North Korea's first family. The Japanese sushi chef gives Julian Ryall his take on the communist dynasty'...
A helicopter practises a rescue yesterday as Chinese warships took part in high-profile maritime drills in the East China Sea to assert Beijing's readiness to use military force to back civilian patrol ships in disputed waters.
The joint naval exercise, which involved 11 vessels from the People's Liberation Army's East Sea Fleet, the fisheries administration and the marine surveillance agency, was seen by analysts as an effort by Beijing to assert its strength while assuaging domestic criticism that it was being too soft on Japan.
A statement posted on the Defence Ministry's website said the exercise was aimed at improving co-ordination between naval and civilian patrol vessels and sharpening their response in missions to safeguard China's territorial sovereignty and maritime interests.
Eight aircraft, including fighter jets, were involved, as well as more than 1,000 military and civilian personnel, Xinhua said. Although the exact composition of the flotilla was unclear, state news agencies reported that PLA frigate Zhoushan and hospital ship Peace Ark took part.
While the PLA holds such exercises regularly, the unusual amount of attention given to this one by Beijing seemed to suggest it was intended as a direct response to the territorial dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands.
In fact, the Defence Ministry said, the exercises simulated a scenario in which patrol vessels and marine surveillance ships were stalked, harassed and intentionally interfered with by foreign vessels in the East China Sea.
The drills come after a series of military exercises between Japanese defence forces and their ally, the United States.
Meanwhile, CCTV said seven of the PLA warships that put Japan on alert after passing close to Okinawan islands this week had returned to base in Qingdao. A CCTV reporter on board one of the ships from the PLA's North Sea Fleet said they had navigated to within 30 nautical miles of the Diaoyu Islands.
Separately, the Nippon Foundation, a Japanese philanthropic organisation, said yesterday it has decided to abolish a programme that promotes defence exchanges between Japanese and Chinese field officers amid the dispute over the islands, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported. Still, Japan's foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, said on a visit to Berlin that Japan wanted to avoid an escalation in the long-running dispute and called for further dialogue with China, according to reports.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the relatively large scale of yesterday's drill could be seen as a response to the decision this week by Japanese opposition leader Shinzo Abe - a front runner to be the country's next prime minister - to visit a controversial war shrine.
Visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 14 top Japanese war criminals among generations of war dead, have long outraged China and South Korea, which took the brunt of Japan's past imperialistic actions.
"The drill has taken place at a good time because to some extent it could be seen as a deterrent reaction to the Japanese side's current provocative moves," Li said.
Niu Zhongjun, an international relations specialist at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said the joint naval drill could represent Beijing's effort to show Tokyo it is ready to take action if the Diaoyus dispute spirals out of control.
"Japan and its ally the United States have planned and staged a lot of naval exercises, with one taking place later this year," Niu said. "It's necessary for us to come out [with] some scenarios about how the East Sea Fleet could co-operate with our patrol ships when they need help."