One of China’s largest and most capable combat ships is conducting long-distance exercises in the Sea of Japan, state media reported yesterday, in a display of China’s increasing naval reach.
The Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times said the mission was the first for the Type 055 destroyer Lhasa since its commissioning last year.
It is accompanied by the Luyang-class Type 052D destroyer Chengdu and the Type 903 oiler Dongpinghu, the paper said, citing the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
The Sea of Japan lies to the north of China between the Japanese archipelago, Sakhalin Island, the Korean Peninsula and the Russian far east mainland.
The Japanese ministry said the three ships were on Sunday spotted about 200km west of Fukue Island in Nagasaki traveling east toward the Sea of Japan.
The ministry said it also spotted a Dongdiao-class intelligence ship on Sunday operating near the Tsushima Strait, which later sailed into the Sea of Japan.
The Chinese navy has been building ships at a furious pace and now boasts the largest naval force in the world by number of hulls.
Those ships have been growing in sophistication as well, with the Type 055, also known as the Nanchang class, featuring a stealthy design and packing air-defense missiles, and anti-ship and anti-land cruise missiles, as well as torpedoes.
China is believed to have commissioned five out of a planned first batch of Type 055 destroyers.
The US military categorizes the Type 055 as a Renhai-class cruiser and sees them partly as a carrier escort. China operates two aircraft carriers with the launch of a third believed to be imminent.
Citing military experts, the Global Times said the destroyer was part of China’s military buildup aimed at deterring a foreign intervention in the event of an attack on Taiwan.
Such a conflict would almost certainly draw in the US, which provides Taiwan with defensive weapons and is legally required to treat threats to the country as matters of “grave concern,” along with its treaty allies, the most important and closest in geographical proximity being Japan.
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