PLA warships reportedly sail near Alaska, ‘display of far-sea capabilities or countermeasure against US provocation’
By Liu Xuanzun
A website affiliated with the US Defense Department reported on Sunday that a naval flotilla of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), featuring one of China’s most powerful warships, recently sailed in international waters near Alaska. However, the report was deleted for unknown reasons on Monday.
If the report is true, activities by Chinese warships are likely a normal far-sea training amid the PLA Navy’s rapid development of such capabilities, Chinese analysts said on Monday, noting that this could also be seen as a countermeasure against US military provocations on China’s doorsteps in the name of freedom of navigation.
A four-ship PLA Navy task force, including a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel and an auxiliary vessel sailed in international waters inside the US Exclusive Economic Zone, off the coast of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, on August 29 and 30, the US Department of Defense reported on Sunday on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) website citing a release from the US Coast Guard District 17.
While the DVIDS report did not name the four PLA vessels, military observers said they are likely of the same flotilla that sailed east through the Soya Strait into the Pacific Ocean on August 24, as the timing and location would logically fit together.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on August 24 spotted a PLA Navy flotilla consisting of four warships, namely the Type 055 destroyer Nanchang, the Type 052D destroyer Guiyang, a Type 903A supply ship with hull number 903, and a surveillance ship with hull number 799, which passed through the Soya Strait from the Sea of Japan and then sailed east, Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in a press release on August 25.
China and many countries classify the Type 055 as a destroyer but the US sees it as a cruiser.
During the activities of the PLA’s warships near Alaska, US Coast Guard cutters Bertholf and Kimball were also operating in the area, the DVIDS report said, noting that the interactions between the US and Chinese vessels were safe and professional, and verbal communications were in accordance with international standards set forth in the Western Pacific Naval Symposium’s Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea and the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.
The DVIDS report became unavailable for unknown reasons on Monday.
China has yet to announce any related information as of Monday evening.
Assuming the US report is true, the PLA naval flotilla operated in the international waters, which means this could be a normal far-sea training and the Chinese ships did not show any sign of aggression or provocation, Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Monday.
The flotilla, led by the 10,000 ton-class Type 055 destroyer, displayed the PLA Navy’s rapid development in far-sea capabilities as Chinese warships are expected to train in more distant, unfamiliar waters in the future, Wei said, noting that the US sent coast guard ships because it is wary of the presence of Chinese warships close to the country, particularly advanced destroyers like the Type 055.
Warships from the US have been making frequent provocations near China in the name of freedom of navigation and now it might feel a little uncomfortable to see Chinese warships on its doorsteps, Wei said, stressing that “this is a countermeasure and a signal against the US actions of hegemony.”
As for why the US deleted the report, a Chinese military expert who requested to remain anonymous told the Global Times on Monday that it is possible that there were factual errors. If report is true, the US could feel it lost face by having Chinese warships sailing near it, taking some of its own medicine of freedom of navigation.
This is not the first time the PLA Navy has sent warships to the region. In 2015, five PLA Navy ships transited expeditiously and continuously through the Aleutian Island chain in a manner consistent with international law, the US Naval Institute News reported at the time. It was an “innocent passage” within 12 nautical miles of the Aleutian Islands, the report said.