Chinese military in South China Sea landing drill as Taiwan tension persists

Liu Zhen
·3-min read

China has released footage of its military conducting joint landing drills in the disputed South China Sea, days after US reconnaissance operations and a Taiwanese exercise simulating a mainland Chinese attack on its reefs.

Mainland China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent navy, army and marine corps and air force troops to take part in a war game around Triton Island, in the Paracel Islands, “to explore the tactics and methods of joint warfare”, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Wednesday.

The Paracel Islands are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. The United States Navy’s vessels have conducted frequent “freedom of navigation” operations in the region, most recently last month.

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The CCTV report showed several Type 726 “Wild Horse” air-cushioned landing craft sailing off a Type 071 amphibious transport dock and rushing onto a beach, each with a Type 96A main battle tank and fully armed marine corps soldiers on board.

A Type 052D guided-missile destroyer, a Type 054A guided-missile frigate and a support ship kept guard off the coast, while an Su-30MKK fighter and an H-6K bomber provided air cover.

In the scenario for the assault exercise, PLA marine corps troops landed from vessels and helicopters, then faced strong fire resistance before the army tank team sent vehicles forward and destroyed enemy bunkers.

The report did not specify the time of the exercise, but said that it was conducted in recent days. It was broadcast after the PLA kicked off a month-long military exercise in the South China Sea on Monday, at a time when the United States has stepped up reconnaissance operations.

The naval flotilla also practised training objectives including air defence, anti-missile operations, and helicopter take-off and landing at night, according to the TV report and PLA statements.

South China Sea: the dispute that could start a military conflict

According to monitoring data released by the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, a Beijing-based think tank, the US sent reconnaissance aircraft – including an MQ-4C maritime reconnaissance drone, an EP-3E spy plane and an RC-135U strategic reconnaissance aircraft – to the South China Sea last week. It also sent the USNS Impeccable ocean surveillance ship to the region.

The PLA video also came as Taiwanese armed forces carried out live-fire shooting exercises from the Pratas Islands (also known as the Dongsha Islands in Chinese) into its surrounding waters on Monday. Further such events are scheduled for next week and the end of this month, on Taiping Island.

Both the Pratas Islands and Taiping are Taiwanese-controlled, with the former located in the north of the South China Sea, between Taiwan and the mainland island province of Hainan, and the latter further south, the largest of the naturally occurring Spratly Islands.

Taiwan’s exercises were planned annual training, according to the Taiwanese coastguard, “mainly to simulate the handling of intrusion by the PLA and Vietnamese ships”.

As the relationship between Beijing and Taipei has become more tense, the PLA has stepped up its warnings to the self-ruled island, which the mainland government views as part of its territory.

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