China is flexing its naval prowess on the global stage again, this time sending one of its most advanced warships into European waters to take part in war games with Russia for the first time.
The Chinese military has sent three ships to Kaliningrad, a highly militarized Russian region, where they will take part in a week-long military exercise with 10 Russian ships, the People’s Liberation Army confirmed on its website Friday.
The trio of ships is led by a Chinese guided-missile destroyer called Hefei – a new type of warship commissioned less than two years ago – and is packed with an array of sophisticated weapons systems.
While China says the move should not be seen as a threat to any other country or organization, the location of the exercises – in the highly contentious Baltic Sea – will be seen as a clear signal of intent by many, including NATO.
“By sending its most advanced guided-missile destroyers, China is expressing its sincerity to Russia and also sends a strong signal to other countries who plan to provoke us,” Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said quoted as saying in a report in the state-run Global Times.
The Chinese flotilla was escorted on parts of the 10,000 mile journey from China by British, Dutch, and Danish warships as it made its way through the English Channel and across the North Sea.
In recent years China has been keen to show its expanding naval reach:
- Earlier in July, Chinese warships set sail from the southern city of Zhanjiang en route to Africa, where they are helping to establish the country’s first overseas military base in Dijibouti. There, China will expand its efforts to help protect ships travelling on the Mandeb Strait – which gives access to the trade route along the Suez Canal — as well as support other peacekeeping efforts.
- In June, China launched what is dubbed “Asia’s most advanced destroyer,” indicating a major step forward for the Chinese navy’s sea-going prowess. Analysts suggest the Type 055 destroyer is second in power only to the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or Zumwalt class destroyer.
- In April, when the USS Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was dispatched to waters near the Korean Penninsula, China — along with Russia — dispatched an intelligence-gathering ship from its navy to chase down the U.S. vessel.
- China is still some way behind the U.S. in terms of naval power, but it took another step to redress that imbalance in April, when it launched its first aircraft carrier. The Liaoning may be underpowered and limited in its capacity to launch aircraft compared to other carriers, but as a symbol of China’s ability to project its naval power, it was seen as important.