Chinese troops stationed in the South China Sea are learning battlefield English to avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments during engagements with forces from other countries in the disputed waterway.
According to a report by state-owned English-language broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN), the skill is “essential” and “must be picked up”. People’s Liberation Army troops are using gaps in their military training schedule for both concentrated learning and self-study.
“In recent years, countries and forces outside China have been provoking troubles and creating tensions in the South China Sea. The naval forces in the Southern Theatre Command are at the forefront of safeguarding rights as well as maintaining regional peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the report said.
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During a recent military exercise on an island reef in the Paracel Islands, part of the drill included using English when engaging with “enemy” troops. One soldier was heard in the broadcast to say in English: “You are surrounded. Surrender.”
Liu Chuanming, a Chinese commander of a marine police district in the Paracels, said the deployment was at the forefront of China’s military defences in the South China Sea. “We must ensure that our intentions can be accurately conveyed, thus we need to improve our level of English.”
The PLA has expelled a number of foreign ships from the South China Sea in the past year. Most recently, a Chinese warship used English to warn off a foreign merchant ship in the area during a PLA combat readiness cruise mission, with the message: “I am warning you again. Leave immediately or we will take further actions.”
In December 2020, the PLA deployed naval and aerial forces when destroyer USS John S. McCain approached the Spratly Islands in what the US described as a “freedom of navigation” exercise. A similar incident occurred in August 2020, when the USS Mustin entered China’s claimed territorial waters off the Paracel Islands.
Other 2020 encounters include the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery near the Spratly Islands in late January, the destroyer USS McCampbell near the Paracel Islands in March, and the destroyer USS Barry, also near the Paracels in April.
The use of English by Chinese forces is not unknown. In October 2018, the destroyer Lanzhou was tracking and monitoring the Kaga, a Japanese helicopter destroyer which was refuelling from an American supply ship in the South China Sea.
After the Chinese ship greeted its Japanese counterpart in English by radio, the Kaga is reported to have replied, “Chinese warship 170, Chinese warship 170, this is Japanese warship 184. Over.”
The Lanzhou responded with: “Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force 184. This is Chinese warship 170. Good morning. Nice to meet you. Over.”
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