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The Chinese Navy Is Always Practicing War In The South China Sea

July 10, 2018

Via China Military Online.

As expected, PLAN warships were conducting “live-fire” and “maritime training” exercises at undisclosed locations in the South China Sea this month. The Chinese military’s own news website published separate photo galleries for the LSTs and frigates that were scheduled–these activities are never spontaneous–to carry them out during the first week of July.

So last week, two PLAN landing ships with hull numbers 934 and 994 simulated emergency scenarios at sea. It’s not clear if they were accompanied by escorts but another group of warships, a Type 056 corvette and a Type 053H frigate, tested their onboard weapons over three days, from July 5 until 7.

The tempo of PLAN combat exercises in the South China Sea is now so routine it no longer elicits formal complaints. While the US Navy and other regional powers have done what they can to negate Beijing’s control over the entirety of its southern waters, there are few options for discouraging blatant military activities in the disputed area like the massive joint drills between the Chinese and Russian navies in 2016.

The stakes couldn’t be higher though. This June saw the eruption of a genuine trade war between China and the US in what looks like a punitive exchange that will sour relations for years to come. With the US Navy’s newly established Indo-Pacific Command responsible for containing Beijing’s territorial ambitions, old and new alliances are forming in the century’s greatest naval standoff.

The PLAN corvette Myanying testing its depth charges in the South China Sea. Via China Military Online.

The PLAN is far from reticent now that its actions have antagonized so many. The year is actually turning into a watershed for the branch with the arrival of so many new capabilities. So here’s a breakdown of what the PLA has been up to in the South China Sea since last November. That month, the PLA flaunted its H-6K bombers conducting simulated raids on Taiwan by encircling the “rogue province.” In the weeks that followed resupply missions involving medium transports were carried out at the Paracel Islands.

In the beginning of the new year the PLAN wasted no time sending its frigates on combat drills where they had ample time for deploying all their defensive and offensive weapons. Then in February a convoy of amphibious and tank transports launched a mock combat mission where they practiced for emergencies and fired their defensive armaments.

Guided missile frigates were at sea once more in March to practice for emergencies and other tasks like interdiction and search and rescue. Chinese navy landing ships had their own separate exercises too. The month was a crowded affair as a dozen H-6K bombers were flown around Taiwan and satellite imagery emerged showing the PLAN practicing a naval parade in the South China Sea led by its sole aircraft carrier.

April was definitely stressful for PLAN officers and crew in the Southern Fleet as their ships were tasked to conduct a huge demonstration. This was part of an elaborate ceremony attended by President Xi Jinping, who delivered a speech emphasizing the branch’s combat readiness. The following week H-6K’s flew around Taiwan again to further intimidate its current government and the Liaoning entered the Western Pacific together with its strike group.

May offered little respite as PLAN frigates were soon firing their weapons in the South China Sea and evidence of H-6K’s on Woody Island went viral. June was even more intense as China’s “coast guard” spent a whole week on a “cruising drill” and, in a separate exercise, frigates were tasked with defending against mock aerial targets using their onboard weapons. These happened with almost no publicity and, unlike in previous months, an anti-Taiwan exercise also took place with little fanfare.

The fact of the matter is, all of China’s neighbors have no choice but to put up with its overzealous air force and navy. Some, however, are more than willing to quietly build a serious deterrent.

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