On Wednesday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) began exercises in the South China Sea focused around amphibious assault activities. Prior to the exercises, a PLAN amphibious assault ship was seen at Woody Island, the largest natural Chinese-held feature in the South China Sea and host to major military facilities in the Paracel Islands.
The vessel, an apparent Type 071 amphibious transport dock, was seen in satellite imagery on June 27. According to ship tracking data, the ongoing exercises not only involved the PLAN, but also the China Coast Guard.
The exercises followed the announcement of a maritime exclusion zone southeast of China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea by the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration (MSA).
The PLAN has carried out major military drills in waters off Hainan Island in the South China Sea regularly in the recent years and it normally announces maritime exclusion zones in doing so.
The apparent involvement of the China Coast Guard, a nominally civilian maritime law enforcement body, in naval drills comes as a novel development. It follows the approval of changes to the Chinese law governing the People’s Armed Police Force by the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee earlier in June — the first such revisions in 11 years. The coast guard, as part of the People’s Armed Police Force, was deemed eligible to participate in wartime activities under the command of the Central Military Commission of China.