An aircraft carrier task group of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy led by the Liaoning, accompanied by a Type 055 large destroyer for the first time and others in a cross-sea area exercise, on Saturday sailed through the Miyako Strait into the Pacific Ocean, at a time when US warships including an aircraft carrier made pointed provocations near China.
The PLA's aircraft carrier exercise is routine and aimed at comprehensively boosting its combat capability rather than any specific country, but the US should understand that its warship activities on China's doorstep will not win it any advantage with the PLA on guard, Chinese analysts said on Monday.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force spotted a PLA Navy flotilla consisting of six warships, namely the aircraft carrier Liaoning, the Type 055 large destroyer Nanchang, the Type 052D destroyers Chengdu and Taiyuan, the Type 054A frigate Huanggang and the Type 901 comprehensive supply shipHulunhu, which passed through waters between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island and sailed south toward the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, Japan's Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in a press release on Sunday.
In the air, a Y-9 patrol aircraft, also known as Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, flew across the Miyako Strait and returned on Sunday, a separate press release by the Japanese defense authority said on the same day.
Military affairs observers said that this is not only the first time in 2021 a Chinese aircraft carrier task group has conducted a cross-sea area exercise, but also the first time the Type 055 Nanchang, the first ship for the country's latest, most powerful destroyer type that entered PLA naval service last year, has taken part in such a voyage, as far as the general public is aware.
With the Type 055 accompanying the Liaoning carrier, the task group's offensive and defensive capabilities have received an all-round enhancement, thanks to the Type 055's more powerful radar systems, battlefield information management systems and stronger firepower compared to the Type 052D, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military affairs expert, told the Global Times on Monday.
The 10,000 ton-class Type 055 large destroyer can not only provide the carrier group with strong air defense cover, but also use anti-ship and land-attack missiles and launch attacks together with the Liaoning's J-15 fighter jets, Wei said.
The combination of aircraft carriers and Type 055 large destroyers will become a standard configuration of Chinese aircraft carrier task groups in the future, analysts said.
Coinciding with the PLA aircraft carrier exercise, the US Navy destroyer USS Mustin on Saturday sailed into the East China Sea and edged close to China's Yangtze River estuary before heading south. On Sunday, the US NavyTheodore Roosevelt carrier strike group entered the South China Sea via the Strait of Malacca, according to monitoring by Beijing-based think tank the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative.
The US tends to make military provocations during holidays, another Chinese military affairs expert told the Global Times on Monday, requesting anonymity.
China is also always prepared to fend off any military provocation at any time, particularly during holidays, when some forces think their opponents will let their guard down, the anonymous expert said.
Sunday was the Qingming Festival, the traditional tomb-sweeping day, when Chinese people also commemorated the country's revolutionary martyrs.
China's military strength is not what it was when foreign countries could bully China, according to frequent social media posts by Chinese netizens.
Wei said that the Liaoning aircraft carrier's voyage is likely a scheduled training exercise and not related to any external factor, but aircraft carrier task groups can always establish wider maritime defensive positions and safeguard coastal regions facing frequent military provocations from US warships and warplanes.
US warships are showing off their military presence and probing the PLA's responses, and the PLA aerial and naval forces must have conducted close monitoring, Wei said, noting that any provocative move will be dealt with according to protocols. "We will not allow US warships to gain any advantage on our doorstep."
Observers from around the world will likely hype up the simultaneous aircraft carrier activities of China and the US, but the events are only a coincidence which will take place more and more often in the future as China's aircraft carrier program advances, the anonymous expert said.
From a strategic point of view, the Liaoning's exercise demonstrated the ever-growing capability of the PLA Navy, and China's carrier group can now keep other countries' military provocations in check, Wei said.
China's second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, homeported in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province, entered naval service in December 2019. Analysts said it will be interesting to see when it makes its first voyage in 2021 following the Liaoning's exercise.