Maritime officers from China’s Hainan province confirmed the wargames were taking place around the disputed Paracel Islands and banned all other sh
Maritime officers from China’s Hainan province confirmed the wargames were taking place around the disputed Paracel Islands and banned all other shipping in the area until July 5. Security analysts said the drills were designed to send a clear message that Beijing has the capability to stamp out any threats to its sovereignty over the vast, strategically important trade route.
It looks like what they’re going to do is practice some island seizure or island security exercises
Bryan Clark, a senior fellow and naval expert at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, said: “It looks like what they’re going to do is practice some island seizure or island security exercises, which could be a way of demonstrating to other Southeast Asian nations that China can come in and kick them off their islands.”
Mr Clark, who has reviewed real-time satellite imagery of China’s main military base at Woody Island, said the exercises were not about simulating an attack on another military force but using the military to suppress potential civilian unrest.
He told Radio Free Asia: “The way it appears they’re setting up their forces for the exercise, it seems like it’s more of a civilian action than it is a military force-on-force engagement.”
Chinese warships carrying out exercises South China Sea
Woody Island is China’s largest occupied feature and main administrative centre in the Paracels, an archipelago of rocks and reefs claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and China.
Satellite imagery showed a Type 071 landing helicopter dock in Woody Island’s harbour last Saturday alongside three smaller ships.
The Type 071 is meant for amphibious warfare operations and the three smaller vesels are thought to be minesweepers.
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China Coast Guard vessels are also taking part in drills in theSouth China Sea
Armed China Coast Guard vessels are also taking part in the drills, according to vessel tracking data and satellite imagery.
China has recently passed new laws upgrading the the coast guard to a branch of the armed forces alongside the navy.
Mr Clarke said: “Tying the coastguard to the People’s Armed Police makes them an extension of the part of the Chinese security apparatus that’s focused on tamping down on internal unrest.
The drills are centred around Woody Island in the disputed Spratlys
Satellite imagery of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea
“One part of this exercise might be to demonstrate to put forces onto an island where the local population is getting restless.
“It’s clearly to demonstrate a capability that would be exported elsewhere, and I think the use of a combination of civilian and military forces is also intended to convey a message, that, ‘We’re looking at this as more than just a military operation, and it’s intended to deal with civilian populations that may be partly Chinese and partly expatriate’.
“And then it’s a way to demonstrate to people outside the immediate area that this is the kind of thing that we can do in your area. Whether it’s Taiwan, the Senkakus, or in the Spratlys.”
China, Taiwan and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei – all have territorial claims in the Spratly chain.
Earlier this week, defence experts have warned the US Congress the constant presence of China Coast Guard and civilian vessels in the South China Sea helps Beijing assert its expansive maritime claims to the region.
Greg Poling, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee: “China wants the South China Sea to be a Chinese lake.
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South China Sea
“Xi Jinping has put this issue, among a few others, at the heart of his China Dream.
“It underpins his claim to legitimacy. So certainly we are going to continue to see China push and push and push the envelope here because Xi has linked his political future to it.”
Washington has beefed up its military presence in the South China Sea in recent years and carries out regular freedom of navigation exercises in the disputed waters.