China’s 1st Indigenously-Developed ‘Shandong’ Aircraft Carrier Deployed Near Philippines – State Media – EurAsian Times

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The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) deployed the aircraft carrier ‘Shandong’ near the Philippines’ waters just days after a massive scuffle broke out between Chinese Coast Guard and Filipino forces.

China’s aircraft carrier Shandong was sighted sailing close to the Philippines as a deterrent against what Chinese state-owned publication Global Times reported as the Philippines’ ongoing provocation against Chinese islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

Earlier, reports over the weekend indicated that Shandong had recently arrived in waters approximately 200 nautical miles from Luzon Island, Philippines. The reports cited commercial satellite imagery. This is reportedly the first such deployment for Shandong, China’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier.

Previously, as tensions peaked in the disputed South China Sea, the PLA dispatched its advanced amphibious and surface combatants to the region, including a Type 075 amphibious assault ship and a Type 071 amphibious landing ship, in addition to big destroyers of the Type 055 and Type 052D classes. Nonetheless, the deployment of a carrier is viewed as a rare move that may escalate tensions in the area.

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China, on its part, made no mention of the deployment amidst the deteriorating situation in the region. In response to reports about Shandong sailing near the Philippines, Chinese experts said on June 30 that the aircraft carrier was probably participating in a planned drill that could also be used as preparation for a possible far-sea voyage in the West Pacific. The carrier has conducted voyages to the Western Pacific region in the past.

Shandong’s recent activity comes amid reports that the US would sink the USS Tarawa as part of the multi-national drill RIMPAC 2024. Chinese state media recently lamented the planned SINKEX (or Sink Exercise, which is used for the test of a weapons system, usually involving a torpedo or missile attack on an unmanned target ship) and alleged that it was a move aimed at practicing sinking a Chinese carrier or amphibious assault ship.

US Navy “Practicing To Sink” China’s 40-000 Ton Aircraft Carrier/Type-75 Warship During RIMPAC Drills – State Media

Zhang Junshe, a Chinese military analyst, told the Global Times that the aircraft carrier Shandong’s training activities were appropriate because the ship could only acquire combat capabilities through training.

Zhang stated that the Chinese military would protect China’s territorial sovereignty and marine rights. These moves, he said, would inevitably provide a deterrence against Manila, which has been engaging in provocative action that violates Chinese maritime rights.

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Carrier Deployment Amid Burgeoning Tensions

China’s second aircraft carrier, Shandong, is the first of its kind to be constructed by the country’s shipbuilding industry. Similar to the first Chinese carrier, Liaoning, it uses conventional steam turbines with diesel generators as propulsion and ski-jump for take-off.

While the hangar is enlarged, its deck space has been freed up to allow eight more aircraft and helicopters.

While there is a possibility that the carrier is planning to cross over to the West Pacific, its presence near the Philippines could be seen as a force projection. Shandong, China’s second aircraft carrier, was the first to sail to the West Pacific via the Bashi Channel, just 60 nautical miles from Taiwan, amid increased tensions with the self-ruled island state.

The passage, close to Luzon, is also significant. Earlier, the US Army deployed its Typhon weapon system to this Filipino island as part of the Balikatan 2024 military drills. Reports also suggest that Manila would station its BrahMos anti-ship missiles—recently acquired from India—at Luzon.

However, more importantly, the deployment comes at a time of escalating tensions between the two sides. Last month, an armed skirmish occurred as Philippine Coast Guard and Navy personnel were delivering supplies to Filipino troops stationed on the grounded Sierra Madre warship near the Second Thomas Shoal.

File Image: Shandong Aircraft Carrier

The Chinese reportedly took control of the boats and used hammers, machetes, and knives to damage them following a skirmish and several deliberate collisions. This may have been the first of its kind of attack in the contested South China Sea. The Armed Forces of the Philippines said the Chinese Coast Guard crew harassed them with “physical attacks, the use of bladed weapons… and blinding strobe lights”.

On its part, China regularly attempts to thwart resupply missions to the Sierra Madre undertaken by the Filipino forces. The resistance posed by the Chinese Coast Guard has led to multiple instances of engagement and confrontation. It has sparked fears that it could spiral into a region-wide conflict.

China has laid claim to the entire South China Sea and remains embroiled in territorial disputes with several other Southeast Asian states. Although a 2016 arbitration ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) invalidated Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, China has categorically rejected the ruling and continued to expand its military presence in the region.

The recent deployment is expected to be interpreted as China’s continuous attempts to showcase its strength to its competitors in the region.

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