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PLA showing its might at naval war games in blue waters

A File Photo shows the military exercise of PLA Navy.

BEIJING (PTI): Chinese military war games in South China Sea this weekend deploying naval warships in an "unprecedented scale" showed Beijing's capability to emerge as full-fledged blue water navy, military analysts said.

"People's Liberation Army's navy warships are this weekend exercising southeast of Japan's strategic offshore islands - part of a recent series of Chinese naval war games in East Asia unprecedented in their reach and scope," Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

"After two decades of double-digit annual increases in military spending, the PLA is rapidly proving it is capable of things once seen as only theoretically possible as it strives to develop a full blue water navy," it said.

Chinese and India naval forces were regarded as the two emerging blue water navies of the region. PLA is numerically strong in terms of fleet and forces but unlike its Indian counterpart yet to acquire aircraft carriers.

PLA's East Sea Fleet flotilla of crack Sovremenny class destroyers, frigates and submarines which are taking part in the games steamed through the so-called first island chain - the US-dominated stronghold that links Japan to Taiwan and Philippines and practised anti-submarine manoeuvres.

The ships moved out through the Miyako Strait just days after a North Sea Fleet flotilla sailed in the other direction on its return from a "confrontation exercise" deep in the disputed South China Sea, the Post said.

That flotilla, which comprised destroyers, frigates and auxiliary ships and had air cover, sailed some 19 days and covered 6,000 nautical miles. It included psychological tests for crew exposed to tough conditions. The ships traversed the Bashi Strait between the Philippines and Taiwan.

Recently, naval aviators have been running extensive long-range exercises with command planes, bombers and attack aircraft from several different bases in the Nanjing and Guangzhou military regions.

The manoeuvres have featured stealth and night flying, radar-jamming electronic warfare and multiple mid-air refuellings, as well as simulated bombing raids in the South China Sea, the report said.

Gary Li, a PLA specialist at the London-based Institute of International and Strategic Studies, said the games are highly significant as they shows a great deal about China's capabilities and emerging strategies.

"We've seen annual exercises at this time, but nothing at all like this... We are seeing greatly improved co-ordination and communication and a great deal of flexibility," he said.

"It must send a very clear message to the region that it should be prepared to see a China unafraid to really test its reach and move into new areas," the Post quoted him as saying.

Japanese officials were quick to express concern after spotting two submarines and eight ships steaming 140 kilometres southwest of Okinawa last weekend.

"Such a situation has not happened before and we will investigate this, including whether (China has) any intentions against our country," said Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa.

Other Japanese defence officials acknowledged that China had not violated international law with its movements - a fact highlighted in a brief statement from the Ministry of National Defence in Beijing early this week.

It said a naval flotilla in the East China Sea and waters southeast of Japanís Miyako Island were on routine training.

"Other parties should not speculate (about) the flotilla's intentions since training in international waters are an international practice," the People's Daily reported the statement as saying.

The extensive operations in the area of the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea have alarmed Vietnam.

The North Sea Fleet ships stopped at a Chinese base and early warning radar station at Fiery Cross reef, the site of an earlier sea battle between Chinese and Vietnamese ships.

Vietnam, like China, claims all the islands as its own. Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines claim parts of the Spratlys chain.

The exercises lit up radars in the region as US, Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese forces are closely observing the war games.

"We've never seen anything on this scale before - they are finally showing us they can put it all together. These types of manoeuvres require extensive command and control capabilities, linking various assets in conflict situations - it is all about communication and flexibility," the Post quoted an unnamed Asian defence attache who is monitoring the games as saying.

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