China stages high-profile naval drill off Korean peninsula

Show of military might ahead of PLA anniversary aimed at demonstrating Beijing’s resolve amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 8:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 July, 2017, 11:10pm

China is flexing its military muscle in a high-profile naval exercise in the Yellow Sea, off the western coast of the Korean peninsula, days ahead of the PLA’s 90th anniversary.

Beijing has so far released scant information about the three-day live-fire drill, which is expected to last through Saturday, but analysts say it is also aimed at demonstrating China’s resolve amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

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The PLA Navy’s North Sea Fleet and the Shandong Maritime Safety Administration announced in the past two days that the central part of the Yellow Sea would be cordoned off to all marine traffic from Thursday for military purposes.

An area of about 40,000 square kilometres off the coastal city of Qingdao, where the North Sea Fleet is headquartered, was expected to be affected by the drill, which would involve live ammunition, Weihai Evening Post reported on Wednesday.

Military experts said the drill was part of celebrations marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, which falls on August 1.

Beijing has yet to unveil details of the celebrations, but sources familiar with the matter told the South China Morning Post that President Xi Jinping would go to Asia’s largest military training base in Zhurihe, Inner Mongolia to watch war games involving cyberwarfare, special troops and army aviation.

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“It’s very likely linked to the 90th anniversary. It’s more of a show of military might to [demonstrate] the recent PLA achievements,” said Collin Koh, a maritime security expert from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

Analysts also believed the drill was designed to send a warning to both Pyongyang and Washington as concerns grow over North Korea’s accelerated nuclear and missile programme.

Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said the drill would send “a very subtle message to North Korea” as the defiant hermit nation refused to give up its nuclear ambitions despite US threats of a military strike.

The US and Australian governments have said they believe Pyongyang could be preparing for another intercontinental ballistic missile test to be conducted within days.

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Ni said the naval drill could also be sending a message to the US at a time when tensions have resurfaced over a slew of issues including the South China Sea dispute.

“The US has been quite active in the region recently,” he said, citing its joint naval exercises with Japan and India and recent maritime and airspace patrols in disputed waters of the East China Sea and South China Sea. Two Chinese fighter jets intercepted a US Navy surveillance plane over the East China Sea at the weekend.

Zhou Chenming, a military observer, said Russian ships may join the exercise in the Yellow Sea, in a sign of closer Sino-Russian military and security ties.

Shi Yinhong, an international relations specialist from Renmin University, agreed that Beijing and Moscow appeared to be edging closer as Washington threatened tougher sanctions against North Korea and Russia. “Russian-US relations were strained over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and ties between China and the US have been frayed in recent weeks. This is the fundamental reason behind the growing military ties between China and Russia,” he said.

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China, which has been conducting joint sea exercises with Russia since 2011, is conducting its first naval drill in the Baltic Sea alongside Russian warships.

Meanwhile, State Councillor Yang Jiechi vowed to boost strategic cooperation and military ties with Russia on Wednesday at a bilateral strategy and security dialogue in Beijing.

China’s defence ministry could not be reached for comment.