The Chinese military this week concluded a month of unannounced exercises in the South China Sea and the Pacific aimed at testing its “wartime command system” and enhancing its missile defenses, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) revealed on Thursday.
“Military observers said the exercises indicated the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] wanted to put its wartime command system to the test and also strengthen its missile defenses in the South China Sea,” SCMP reports.
“This training enabled us to deepen our knowledge of a systematic combat situation at sea and improve our capabilities,” a statement from the PLA Navy’s South Sea Fleet declared, according to the newspaper.
Beginning on January 16, the PLA reportedly carried out 20 drills over 34 days involving its navy, air force, and missile unit.
“This exercise was to put to the test the so-called combined force command, with all these capabilities,” Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military analyst, told SCMP, noting that the latest drills were an attempt by the PLA enhance its ability to monitor the South China Sea.
Early this month, Adm. Philip Davidson, the top U.S. commander charged with overseeing American military activity in the South China Sea, warned that China’s “massive effort to grow and modernize” the PLA is “eroding” the United States’ “relative competitive military advantage” in the Indo-Pacific region, stressing that Beijing’s communist leaders are sensing “weaknesses.”
Citing the Chinese military’s statement, SCMP notes that several of China’s newest warships — a guided missile destroyer, a guided missile frigate, an amphibious landing dock, and a replenishment oiler — joined Chinese troops stationed on contested territory in the South China Sea for the drills, which came as a surprise.
The newspaper points out, “To simulate a real wartime situation, the exercise had no pre-planned scenario and no advance notice was given, with all command instructions and procedures following an actual combat situation, the statement said.”
To the dismay of the United States, China has built artificial islands and claimed ownership of land in areas of the South China Sea, a move disputed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.