Drills with Russia put Chinese navy to the test in unfamiliar waters

Exercise aimed at showing two countries are drawing closer, experts say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 6:34pm

China will put its global naval strength to the test in unfamiliar waters in the second stage of an annual joint drill with Russia next week.

Naval experts said the exercises were aimed at showing that China and Russia were drawing closer amid simmering tensions over the Korean peninsula, with Beijing calling on the United States, Japan and South Korea to scale back their military drills in the region.

A Chinese missile destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship and submarine rescue vessel along with shipborne helicopters and submersible rescue vehicles set sail from Qingdao on Wednesday, according to a statement on the PLA Navy website.

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The drills will be held in the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk from Monday to September 26, official news agency Xinhua reported.

The first part of the joint naval exercise was held in July, with the Chinese navy sailing over 10,000 nautical miles to reach the Baltic Sea. It was the first time the two countries had held a joint drill there.

Next week will be the first time the Chinese navy has conducted a drill in unfamiliar waters – the Sea of Okhotsk, off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

It will also involve complicated submarine rescues and anti-submarine drills that have not been included in previous joint exercises between the two countries.

They will begin with coastal drills in Vladivostok from Monday to Thursday, and sea exercises from September 22 to 26, the Russian defence ministry said.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said China wanted to demonstrate its global fighting prowess with the drills.

“If the Chinese navy wants to be a real blue-water navy, it needs to be able to operate in all weather conditions and in unfamiliar waters. Only Russia can give China this type of training location,” Li said.

He also noted that the drills were happening at a time when the US was putting pressure on China to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions while it continued to hold exercises of its own with Japan and South Korea in waters off the Korean peninsula.

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“There’s a need for the PLA Navy to show off its fighting capabilities in case there is a military conflict in the area,” he said.

Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong said Japan would be displeased by the drills because they will be held in waters close to the disputed Kuril islands that are claimed by Japan and controlled by Russia.

“Moscow wouldn’t need Chinese help in the event of a maritime conflict with Japan, yet it is willing to make these important waters available for joint exercises. This shows Russia’s support for Beijing both politically and diplomatically,” Ni said.

The drills will be the eighth joint exercises between the two navies in the past six years. In 2015, China and Russia held two sets of drills – in the Mediterranean and the Sea of Japan.