Sunday, May 19, 2024
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In a time of escalating unease over Chinese maritime activities in the South China Sea, China’s largest naval training ship embarked on its journey to the Philippines on Friday. The vessel, named Qijiguang, is a colossal training ship, larger than the average destroyer. This voyage marks the final leg of its regional “friendly” tour, which has taken it to Vietnam, Thailand, and Brunei over the course of approximately 40 days.

Departing from Brunei on Thursday, Qijiguang commenced its voyage to the Philippines. This grand journey will take the ship and its crew of 476 navy students and officers through the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand, and West Pacific.

Chinese state media has stated that the training conducted aboard the ship, named after a Ming dynasty general renowned for his battle against Japanese pirates, will primarily focus on navigation, anti-piracy tactics, and shooting exercises with lightweight weapons. The media has repeatedly emphasized the “friendly” nature of the ship’s passage through the region.

However, Qijiguang’s impending arrival in the Philippines occurs against a backdrop of heightened tensions over the South China Sea. China asserts its claim over the majority of the region, yet parts of it are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

This visit follows immediately after the conclusion of the first-ever trilateral coast guard exercise involving the Philippines, Japan, and the United States, which concluded on Wednesday. The Philippines has been bolstering its military ties with the United States this year, conducting additional drills and granting U.S. access to local military bases. China expressed its displeasure when Manila stated that such access would be valuable in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, a territory claimed by China.

Tensions have further intensified as the Philippines recently deployed navigational buoys in the disputed Spratly Islands of the South China Sea. China swiftly responded by placing its own buoys in the area.

During its voyage, the training vessel arrived in Vietnam from May 23 to 25, coinciding with the presence of a Chinese research ship in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between May 7 and June 6. This prompted a rare protest from Hanoi.

Adding to the regional dynamics, Indonesia, as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), announced on Thursday that the bloc’s ten members would conduct their first-ever multilateral military drill in the South China Sea in September.

As China’s mammoth naval training ship nears the Philippines, concerns and tensions over the South China Sea disputes continue to mount. The presence of this vessel serves as a reminder of the delicate balance and complex power dynamics in the region, as nations strive to safeguard their interests amidst an evolving maritime landscape.

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