The Chinese navy is conducting a week-long exercise in the Gulf of Tonkin to test new warships and weapons, military experts said.
The Maritime Safety Administration posted “no sail” notices for three parts of the gulf, warning vessels not to enter the zones because of live-fire drills. The exercises began on August 9 and are expected to end on Sunday.
The exercises overlapped with three days of naval training from Tuesday near the Paracel chain of islands in the disputed South China Sea.
The exercises are being staged amid tensions between China and Vietnam over the presence of a Chinese survey ship near the energy-rich Vanguard Bank, which Hanoi has declared part of its exclusive economic zone.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military expert, said he did not expect Vietnam to voice a strong objection to the latest drills, despite their taking place in nearby waters.
“China and Vietnam reached a maritime delimitation agreement in 2000 to settle their [territorial] disputes in the Gulf of Tonkin,” he said. “So Vietnam cannot point its finger at China now [about these exercises].
“These exercises – including the one held near the Paracel chain of islands – are meant to show that the People’s Liberation Army has the capacity to protect China’s economic interests in the Gulf of Tonkin and the whole of the South China Sea.”
Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said the Tonkin Gulf and Paracel drills were part of regular training designed to test the PLA’s new warships and ship-borne weapons.
“The Chinese navy has stepped up its replacement [of warships] so more vessels and weapons are entering service,” Zhou said.
“All new warships and weapons need to be tested in tropical waters and used in regular joint training, especially large-scale exercises.”
New warships such as advanced Type 054D guided-missile destroyers, next-generation Type 055 destroyers and Type 071 amphibious assault vessels have been commissioned in the past year.
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By June, China had launched eight Type 071 vessels, four of which were deployed to the PLA Navy’s South Sea Fleet. The fleet plays a key role in asserting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, an area contested by a number of Southeast Asian nations and Taiwan.
Zhou added that the latest drills were not taking place in areas considered sensitive.