PLA exercises in S.China Sea ‘not related to US carrier activity’
Published: Jan 27, 2021 07:43 PM

Two JH-7 fighter bombers attached to a naval aviation brigade under the PLA Northern Theater Command taxi on the flightline where the snow blanket has been cleared during a flight training exercise in early January, 2021. ( by Duan Yanbing)

 The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) started a series of exercises in the South China Sea on Wednesday, which Chinese observers said is likely a regular move and not related to the recent activities of a US aircraft carrier in the region, as foreign media had speculated.

China will hold military exercises in the waters to the west of the Leizhou Peninsula in the South China Sea from Wednesday to Saturday, and other vessels are prohibited from entering, read a navigation restriction notice released on the website of China's Maritime Safety Administration on Tuesday.

The notice provided the coordinates of the exercises, but did not give further details.

Reuters said in a report on Tuesday that the Chinese exercises come just days after the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier entered the South China Sea on Saturday, suggesting a connection between the two.

While the PLA must have been monitoring US military activities in the South China Sea, currently available information indicates the PLA exercises are not necessarily related to the US aircraft carrier, a military analyst who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Wednesday.

In the past three months, waters near the Leizhou Peninsula have hosted at least four military exercises, according to the website of China's Maritime Safety Administration. This indicates the region has a history of being a zone for regular PLA exercises, observers said.

Commercial satellite imagery shows that the US aircraft carrier was sailing near Huangyan Island on Monday, after it entered the South China Sea from the Bashi Channel on Saturday, the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, a Beijing-based think tank, said on Monday. 

This means the US aircraft carrier was more than 1,000 kilometers away from the PLA exercise area.

According to the coordinates in the notice, the exercise area is a narrow rectangle less than 20 kilometers long, and it is partially connected to the land, indicating that the exercises could be related to coastal defense or amphibious landings, not anti-aircraft carrier operations, observers said.

The PLA has a need for regular training, and announcing a navigation restriction zone aims to prevent accidents, the analyst said, noting that the US has been conducting reconnaissance of PLA exercise zones at close range and has even trespassed into those zones, which risked accidents.

Another Chinese military expert who asked for anonymity told the Global Times that both the US and Chinese military exercises are scheduled and routine, and it could take a while to see the policies of the new US administration reflected in military operations.