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China’s navy carries out ‘rare solo’ drills in Sea of Japan

China’s navy conducted a solo drill in the Sea of Japan on Thursday, the military’s official newspaper reported yesterday, an exercise an analyst said was “very rare” in the strategic waterway.

Six navy vessels, including one missile destroyer, three missile frigates and two supply ships, together with several helicopters, took part in the exercise, according to the PLA Daily and Xinhua.

Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said it was “very rare” for the China to conduct solo drills in the area.

“The Chinese navy had joint drills with the Russian navy near waters of the Sea of Japan last year, but it’s very rare for the PLA fleet to conduct solo large- scale drills in the area,” he said.

“It was because Japan sent their maritime defence force to enter the South China Sea, so China also needs to take active moves to show its military muscle in the Sea of Japan.”

The PLA Daily said “this high sea exercise is part of annual training arrangements, is not aimed at any specific country, region or target, and accords with international law and practice”.

Foreign aircraft attempted surveillance during the drill and were met with the appropriate response from the Chinese warships, Xinhua reported, citing a military source.

Hu Bo, from Peking University’s Ocean Strategy Research Centre, said the drill had was partly related to deteriorating Sino-Japan ties but was more a sign of China’s growing naval power.

The Chinese navy has been expanding its reach in recent years. Five Chinese naval vessels were spotted in September 2015 in the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska.

That was believed to have been the first time Chinese military ships had been spotted in the area and was seen as a sign of China’s expanding presence far from its own coastline.

“The Chinese navy will do many things it has never done before,” Hu said. “The Chinese navy ought to visit the Sea of Japan more often.”

The Chinese navy has increased its activities near Japan in recent years.

A Chinese flotilla was seen to almost circumnavigate Japan’s coastline in February, staying outside of Japan’s territorial waters.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan

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