By Liu Xuanzun
Amid rising tensions across the Taiwan Straits with the US military's increasingly frequent operations in the region, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy recently held drills in the East China Sea, with the latest, more powerful, anti-stealth aircraft-capable version of the Type 052D destroyer making its first public appearance, according to military reports over the weekend.
In early July, a destroyer flotilla affiliated with the PLA Eastern Theater Command Navy conducted training exercises at an undisclosed location in the East China Sea. The training subjects included air and missile defenses, attacks on surface vessels, and joint anti-submarine operations, the PLA Daily reported on Sunday.
According to more details released in a statement and photos posted by the PLA East China Sea Fleet on Friday, the drills featured the guided missile destroyer Zibo, which has the hull number 156, among several other warships.
Having entered military service on January 12, the Zibo is the PLA Navy's first ship of the improved version of the Type 052D destroyer, which is dubbed the Type 052DL, reads an article on the website of the government of Zibo, the city in East China's Shandong Province the destroyer is named after.
This is the first time the Zibo was seen in action according to a publicly available report, observers noted.
Compared to the original Type 052D, the Type 052DL has a longer helicopter deck, and is equipped with a new, meter wave long-range radar on its after-mast, the article said, noting the improvements enable the destroyer to carry China's most advanced Z-20 ship-born helicopter, and to better cope with hostile stealth warplanes.
The exercises came at a time when tensions are rising across the Taiwan Straits, as the US not only approved a new arms sale to Taiwan on Thursday, but also sent a destroyer to waters north of the island of Taiwan and conducted close-up reconnaissance on the Chinese mainland on Friday, according to the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based think tank.
The US frequently sent military aircraft and vessels to and near Taiwan since June, and Taiwan is also set to hold its annual Han Kuang exercise on Monday.
The US military will likely play a part in Taiwan's Han Kuang exercise, as it has secretly sent military personnel to participate in past occasions, and the US and Taiwan secessionists are planning to cooperate in resisting a potential Taiwan reunification-by-force operation by the PLA, Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Sunday.
PLA naval drills can serve as a deterrent to US reconnaissance operations, and also send a warning to Taiwan secessionists, Li said, noting the PLA is prepared for all options.
Just like the US' close-up reconnaissance on China, the PLA can also conduct similar operations on US bases in Asia-Pacific region, observers said.