A day after the United States sailed a missile destroyer within 12 miles of one of the submerged reefs built up by China into an island in the South China Sea, the PLA apparently sent a squadron of destroyers from its South Sea Fleet for a series of exercises in the area. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Reports on the exercises, which included live firing, didn’t specify where they took place but said they involved aircraft and warships from China’s southern Guangzhou Military Region and the South Sea Fleet, whose primary area of responsibility is the South China Sea. They featured simulations of actual wartime conditions and were aimed at improving combat readiness, according to the reports published on 81.cn, the People’s Liberation Army’s official web portal.
The reports didn’t refer to the Oct. 27 patrol conducted by a U.S. Navy destroyer close to Chinese-built islets in the South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation in the area, the subject of competing territorial claims between China and several Southeast Asian countries.
The People’s Liberation Army web portal announced that the ships had gone to a “certain” sea and carried out air defense, anti-submarine and surface warfare drills, which included shooting down a target simulating an incoming missile. J-11 fighters were also scrambled from what Chinese analysts are guessing is Woody Island in the Paracels—China’s only active military airbase in the South China Sea—to practice attacking naval targets.
The United States Department of Defense has announced that it plans to carry out as many as two “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea each quarter and has urged other countries to do the same. In a video conference between PLA Admiral Wu Shengli and his U.S. counterpart, Admiral John Richardson, last Friday, Wu is said to have warned the United States about the dangers of “shooting accidentally while polishing a gun.”
Although heightened tensions mean that no one can rest easy, it’s reassuring to hear the Administration sound more definite about its plans. Finally.