Chinese Aircraft Carrier Sails Near the Philippines, Chinese Warships Continue Operations Near Japan

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China sailed its aircraft carrier CNS Shandong (17) into the South China Sea, as close as 230 miles from the Philippine main island of Luzon. Meanwhile, PLAN ships have been operating around Japan over the past few days, according to Japan Joint Staff Office releases.

Satellite imagery showed Shandong sailing within 230 miles of Luzon on June 26. The Philippine Navy has downplayed the carrier’s presence. Philippines news channel GMA News reported that in a Tuesday press briefing, Philippine Navy spokesperson Rear Admiral Roy Vincent Trinidad said the Philippine Navy was aware of the carrier and also of the China Coast Guard’s 12,000-ton CG5901 cutter in the Philippine exclusive economic zone. Trinidad said the presence of both ships was permissible under international law.

“They are authorized under UNCLOS either through freedom of navigation or right of innocent passage. Rest assured the Philippine Navy and the Armed Forces will continue monitoring the vast expanse of our maritime domain,” Trinidad said.

Since the pass near the Philippines, satellite images posted online show the carrier operating near Hainan Island in China on Sunday, the island where the carrier is homeported near the city of Sanya. Media outlets in China and elsewhere have speculated that the carrier’s proximity to the Philippines was a show of force and deterrent following clashes between China and the Philippines off Second Thomas Shoal, but USNI News understands the underway period could have been certification exercises ahead of a later deployment.

Shandong last wrapped up an operational deployment to the western Pacific in early November last year, though the carrier later sailed north through the Taiwan Strait to conduct training off the coast of Northern China. The training was suspected to be of carrier CNS Liaoning’s (16) air complement, as Liaoning at that time was undergoing refurbishment. Shandong then sailed south through the Taiwan Strait in December to return to its homeport. The carrier has not conducted a western Pacific deployment since, though it has sailed out for training in the waters around its homeport on several occasions.

China’s Ministry of National Defense and military has not issued any statements or releases on Shandong’s recent activity as of the time of writing, though it has been standard for the MND and PLA not to release any information on its carriers’ operational activities.

Meanwhile, PLAN ships have been operating around Japanese waters according to JSO releases on Monday. The first release stated that at 6 p.m. on Friday, destroyer CNS Kaifeng (124) and frigate CNS Yantai (538) had been sighted sailing northeast in an area 50 miles south of Tsushima, and from Friday to Saturday, transited northeast through the Tsushima Strait to enter the Sea of Japan. Subsequently, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, the two PLAN ships were sighted sailing southeast in an area 19 miles south of Oshima Island which lies 31 miles west off the southeast tip of the main island of Hokkaido. From Sunday to Monday, the two ships transited east through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the main islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, to enter the Pacific Ocean, according to the release.

The release noted the two ships sailed east through the Osumi Strait on June 27 and then came back the same way on June 28. Japan Maritime Self Defense Force minesweeper JS Yakushima (MSC-602), multipurpose support ship JS Suo (AMS-4302), a JMSDF P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 2 based at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base on the main island of Honshu and a JMSDF P-1 MPA of Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Honshu, shadowed the PLAN ships, stated the release.

A second release stated that at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dongdiao class surveillance ship Tianshuxing (795) was sighted sailing southeast in an area 37 miles southwest of Kume Island and subsequently sailed between Miyako Island and Okinawa to enter the Philippine Sea. Minesweeper JS Shishijima (MSC-691) monitored the PLAN ship, according to the release.

The third and final release stated that on Monday at 3 a.m., cruiser CNS Lhasa (102) and fleet oiler CNS Kekexilihu (903) had been sighted sailing northeast in an area 25 miles west of Rebun Island, which lies 31 miles off the northwest tip of the main island of Hokkaido. According to the release, the PLAN ships subsequently sailed east through La Perouse Strait, which separates Hokkaido from the Russian island of Sakhalin, to enter the Sea of Okhotsk. The release noted that the two ships had transited the Tsushima Strait earlier on Thursday and that fast-attack craft JS Kumataka (PG-827) and a JMSDF P-3C Orion of Fleet Air Wing 2 shadowed the cruiser and fleet oiler.

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