The other day we linked to a piece by a Navy commander warning of increasingly activist Chinese naval exercises in recent months. IISS has a new brief providing useful detail on a number of recent Chinese sorties into the South China Sea.
Two exercises in March and April were the first of any real size beyond the First Island Chain, and “indicated that deployments beyond the chain were now official policy,” says London based IISS. The flotillas contained the PLA’s most advanced warships, of Russian manufacture (Kilo class diesel electric subs and Sovremenny class destroyers).
In March and April a flotilla of six ships from the North Sea Fleet set sail, passing near Okinawa on its way to the strategic Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia; through which flows much of China’s inbound shipping, including vital oil and minerals. Once there, the flotilla conducted live fire and anti-submarine exercises.
IISS says these sorties demonstrate the PLA Navy is taking a much more prominent role in Chinese foreign policy. “It shows that the navy is willing and able to break through the First Island Chain and into the Pacific – a substantial change from previous doctrine.”
For China’s neighbors, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, it means they will have to contend with a more assertive China. Japan and the U.S. will have to get used to Chinese flotillas moving about the Pacific. “However, its primary focus will be on preserving territorial integrity rather than on aggressive expansion.”
What say you readers? Aggressive Chinese naval actions which should be of some concern? Or a rising power demonstrating its intent to defend strategic self interests? Of course the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
— Greg Grant