China's navy continues to fly the red flag in the South Pacific

As strategic competition with the United States and its allies heats up, this can be seen in the recent „advantage” naval operations of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in the South Pacific.

The PLAN conducts routine medical missions in the Pacific – for example, the Type 920 hospital ship Ark of Peace Harmonious departed Zhushan on July 3 to begin Mission 2023.

The 14,000-ton ship made stops in Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste before returning home in September. Ark of Peace Made first visit to both Kiribati and Solomon Islands. Along with 126 Chinese military and civilian medical personnel, they stayed at each port for a week and provided free medical services.

This is Ark of Peace With the carrier USS Carl Vinson In San Diego during the „happy” days, there was still hope for cooperation between the United States and China. (USN)

Likewise, the PLAN's modern Type 680 training vessel Qi Zhiguang It also operates in the South Pacific. After departing Qingdao on 4 September, with midshipmen from the Dalian Naval Academy, it proceeded to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

About 350 sailor cadets were on board, including five seamen from overseas. One of them, Sub-Lieutenant Josiah Naulu from Fiji, told CGTN: „We had an amazing journey. On board, we practiced both theoretical and practical, which is different from navigation, seamanship and engineering. Besides, we had to perform duty on board, bridge, electrical control room, engineering control room etc. Sublette had completed four years of naval training in Naulu China.

163 m long Qi Zhiguang It conducted bilateral exercises in every country it visited. The PLA said such actions „continue traditional friendly military relations with their … South Pacific counterparts”.

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Chinese Navy
This photo shows the PLAN's Type 680 training ship Qi Jiguang. It was launched in February 2017 and has recently been active in the South Pacific. (Tyg728, Wikimedia)

Earlier, 9,000 tonnes Qi Zhiguang Visited Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei and Philippines. „It is designed to improve the operational adaptability and capability of Chinese naval officer cadets, strengthen maritime practical cooperation, strengthen mutual trust with visited countries, and serve and contribute to a maritime community.” PLA said.

Such ships fly China's flag and help chart the country's „blue economic route” into the South Pacific. In 2017, China proposed three such „blue economic corridors” as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, one of which is the China-Oceania-South Pacific Corridor.

However, more than economic sea lanes are at stake, as the PLAN is keen to develop links deeper into the Pacific Ocean beyond the first island chain. The ability to carry out long-range maritime surveillance and the ability to operate flexibly in tense times are critical to the PLAN.

The 2023 version of the Pentagon Military and defense developments involving the People's Republic of China The report noted:

“The PRC is seeking to expand its overseas logistics and infrastructure base. If realized, a global PLA military logistics network could disrupt US military operations as the PRC's global military objectives evolve.

The prospect of new Chinese naval bases and bases spread across the South Pacific has worried Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

China is trying to gain a strategic foothold in the Pacific island nations, for example in the Solomon Islands where it already has an influential position. A bilateral security agreement allows China to send troops to maintain order, although the Solomon Islands government denies this would lead to a Chinese military base.

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Of course, China is not the only country conducting goodwill naval operations in the Pacific. The USN's Pacific Partnership 2023 involves nearly 1,500 personnel, including some from Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the UK, US Navy Capt. Claudine Caluori told media on Nov. 3.

China's navy continues to fly the red flag in the South Pacific
U.S. Navy Pacific Partnership 2023 Mission Commander Capt. Claudine Calluri addresses an audience in the Philippines in August. (USN)

Captain Kaluri, Pacific Partnership 2023 mission commander, said the program was in its 18th iteration, the first being conducted in 2004 in response to the devastating tsunami that hit South and Southeast Asia.

This year's work centered on the USS Dock landing ship Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and Independence-class USS Jackson (LCS 6). Pacific Partnership 2023 began in Vietnam in August and has since stopped in the Philippines, Malaysia, Samoa, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

Naval News Captain Kaluri asked if there was any cooperation or competition between the USN and the PLAN or any meetings between the two navies during Pacific Partnership 2023. The mission commander replied, „No contacts are known at this time”. Captain Kaluri further noted that the Pacific Partnership is conducted annually and therefore should not be considered as a response to any nation or current events.

She continued: “…We value our growing cooperation with the U.S. Navy and our allies and partners, host nations, and look forward to improving lines of communication and understanding that promote greater cooperation and partnerships that benefit all nations.

„All Pacific Partnership 2023 activities are driven by host nation requests and approval … Host nations invite the US Navy and its operational partners to visit and conduct humanitarian civil response preparedness activities in areas such as engineering, disaster response, public health, and outreach events. . Again, host nation objections And all additional criteria such as preferences are considered.

The PLAN's first deployment to Oceania was in 1976, but its first port calls in the region occurred only in 1998. To date, Chinese naval vessels have made approximately 54 port calls in Oceania; Frequency has increased since 2010, particularly in Melanesia and western Polynesia.

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China's first naval training mission to the South Pacific took place in 2012, and medical missions have been underway since 2014. Each of these have occurred four times so far, with COVID-19 temporarily affecting their frequency.

Yuanwang space observation ships are the most common observers in the South Pacific. This is Yuanwang-6It was launched in 2007. (Gordon Arthur)

Fiji is the most regular host after racking up 20 port calls Yuan Wang Space observation vessels of the Chinese Satellite Maritime Observation and Control Department. Incidentally, China donated the catamaran hydrographic vessel RFNS Mix it up to Fiji in 2019.

China also deployed two naval vessels – Type 071 landing platform Vujishan and the Type 901 supply vessel Saganhu – To Tonga after the January 2022 volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami.

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