Is this China's message to the US? Chinese missile frigate enters service in East China Sea

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 February, 2016, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 10:59am

The Chinese navy has put into service a domestic-made advanced missile frigate in the East China Sea, upgrading the force’s combat capabilities amid rising maritime tensions.

Xiangtan, named after Mao Zedong’s hometown, entered service with the East Sea Fleet on Wednesday in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province.

The Type 054A frigate, which has a displacement of more than 4,000 tonnes, has long range surveillance and strong air defence capabilities, according to state news agency Xinhua.

The news came a day after a senior US military official said China was “militarising” the South China Sea.

Although the new ship will be stationed in the East China Sea, the high level of publicity granted to it was a response to recent diplomatic tussling with the US, said military analyst Ni Lexiong.

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China has deployed eight Type 054A frigates in the East China Sea, while another eight were sent to the South China Sea between 2007 and 2014.

“The US destroyers’ patrols in the South China Sea are seen as showing off and provocative,” said Ni.

In recent months, two US guided-missile destroyers have sailed within 12 nautical miles of Chinese controlled islands in the South China Sea.

Type 054A frigates can attack enemy ships and submarines alone or in coordination with other naval forces, Xinhua said.

Their anti-submarine capabilities are particularly good, which is why they have previously been deployed to the South Sea Fleet – to act as a deterrent against the submarines of Vietnam and other Southest Asian countries, said naval expert Li Jie.

“Xiangtan’s dispatching to the East Sea Fleet is to fill the gap of defence in the East China Sea,” said Li. “It shows that China is speeding up the upgrade and renewal of warships.”

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China is involved in disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu islands – called the Senkakus by the Japanese – in the East China Sea.

China has invested billions in building ships to meet the navy’s growing demands. Its second aircraft carrier, and first domestically made one, is under construction and will have a standard displacement of 50,000 tonnes. The Pentagon said Beijing could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years.

The PLA Navy has at least 12 advanced Type 052D missile destroyers, which have powerful offensive weaponry, and 22 Type 054A frigates, according to the magazine Kanwa Defence Review in Canada.

China’s military budget in 2015 was 886.9 billion yuan (HK$1,055 billion), up 10.1 per cent from a year earlier.

Dong Qian, the captain of Xiangtan, said the crew had mastered the skills needed to control the frigate during more than a year of training and had completed a trial voyage.

Xiangtan was also the name of an old Type 053H frigate, which participated in the battle for Johnson South Reef of the Spratlys with Vietnam in 1988. The ship was sold to Bangladesh in 1989.