China navy wraps up visits to four Persian Gulf states

AP, BEIJING

Tue, Feb 07, 2017 - Page 5

A Chinese navy task force has wrapped up visits to four Persian Gulf states as the increasingly capable maritime force grows its presence in the strategically vital region.

The three ships departed Kuwait on Sunday after stopping in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense yesterday said on its Web site.

They had previously completed an assignment escorting commercial shipping and patrolling for pirates in the Gulf of Aden, the 24th Chinese task force to be dispatched for such duties since China joined the multinational effort in December 2008.

The Chinese navy has used the patrols to build its capacity to operate far from home ports and expand its use of the military as a tool of diplomacy following the model of other major nations.

In its report, the ministry said the visits aimed to stir interest in China’s project to link European and Asian economies along the ancient Silk Road land and sea routes.

In addition, the deployments have prompted Beijing to build a logistics and support center in Djibouti that is widely considered to be its first overseas military base.

The Horn of Africa nation already hosts US, French and Japanese bases for logistical support and to facilitate African military operations. Japan is now seeking to expand its Djibouti facility as a counterweight to China’s presence, Japanese media report.

The Chinese task force making the recent visits consists of the guided-missile destroyer Harbin, the guided-missile frigate Handan and the supply ship Dongpinghu.

In other developments, a highly accurate ballistic missile capable of threatening US and Japanese bases in Asia has made its latest appearance at recent Rocket Force drills.

The medium-range DF-16 that was featured in a video posted last week on the ministry’s Web site showing the missiles aboard their 10-wheeled mobile launch vehicles being deployed in deep forest during exercises over the just-concluded Lunar New Year holiday.

While the Rocket Force boasts an extensive armory of missiles of various ranges, the DF-16 fills a particular role in extending China’s reach over waters it seeks to control within what it calls the “first-island chain.”

First displayed at a Beijing military parade in 2015, the missile is believed to have a range of 1,000km, putting it within striking distance of Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines.

The two-stage DF-16 replaces the older, shorter range DF-11, with a final stage that can adjust its trajectory to strike slow moving targets and evade anti-missile defenses, such as the US Patriot system deployed by Taiwan.