China’s Navy Aims for Transparency
Image Credit: Wikicommons

China’s Navy Aims for Transparency


As it becomes more mature and self-confident, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in recent years has held exercises at sea with increased frequency, and further out in the West Pacific. In 2012 alone, it held seven such drills beyond the first island chain, with surface ships and submarines often passing through channels that lie close to the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islets, its warships have held various drills in waters in Taiwan’s rear. While China seeks to position itself as an ocean-going navy to protect its maritime interests and territorial integrity, its efforts continue for the most part to be marred by a lack of transparency, which only serves to aliment fears with its neighbors. That might be about to change.

Last week, China embarked on its first naval exercises of 2013, amid rising tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over an island row in the East China Sea. The Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced on January 30 that despite the tensions, it would proceed with a scheduled deep-water series of navy drills in the West Pacific in early February.

Three vessels from the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet — the Type 052 guided-missile destroyer Qingdao, and two Type 054A missile frigates, the Yantai and Yancheng, left the port of Qingdao on January 29th on their way to conduct exercises in the Pacific. State-run Xinhua news agency said the vessels would conduct as many as 20 drills simulating maritime confrontation, open-sea mobile combat, law enforcement missions and open-sea naval commanding, in a large body of international water including the Yellow, East and South China seas, the Miyako Strait, the Bashi Channel, as well as areas north, south and east of Taiwan.

The fleet held a four-hour maritime confrontation drill in the Yellow Sea on the day of its departure before entering the western Pacific through the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island. Philippine media reported that the ships passed through the Bashi Channel between the Philippines and Taiwan on February 1 on their way to the South China Sea.

Although PLAN exercises have become routine, the Chinese military has fared rather poorly in stating its intentions for holding the drills, the platforms involved and the locations where the exercises are to be held, or to reassure other countries that the drills are not directed at them. All of this, added to Beijing’s growing assertiveness and China’s involvement in a series of territorial spats in the East and South China Sea, as well as over Taiwan’s “unresolved” status, has fueled rumors and fears, and thus undermined China’s image as a responsible, if not peaceful, player within the region.

China’s low-key approach, and the lack of information it provided ahead of exercises, often meant that PLAN vessels were already at sea when reports of the drills were first made public, usually by foreign media. In some instances, news that an exercise had taken place only emerged after Japanese surveillance aircraft spotted the PLAN vessels as they were heading back for China. This lack of transparency, one observer says, encouraged “random guessing” about China’s “sneaky” intentions and made miscommunication likelier.

To assuage such worries, in November 2012 the Ministry of National Defense reportedly launched an initiative encouraging transparency, with exercise schedules, the purpose of the drills and the ship formations to be announced prior to a fleet’s departure. Through this, the PLA also hopes to normalize its presence in the Pacific and undermine fears among regional countries and the U.S. The initiative also appears to be part of a wider effort to increase transparency in the armed forces, with a gradually increased flow of information about recent weapons systems.

Within the PLAN more specifically, efforts have also been made to turn its warships into known commodities through public diplomacy. The Qingdao, for example, has visited 19 ports in 17 countries on five continents in recent years.

Although the principal function of this opening up appears to be to reassure neighbors, it should also be noted that the PLA would unlikely be willing to do so had it not reached a certain level of maturity and self-assurance. While the benefits of this might be undermined by calls from the Chinese Communist Party leadership for the armed forces to prepare for war, more advance-warning information about upcoming exercises can help reduce the amount of speculation, which on occasion is known to have turned to hyperbole, about China’s intentions. In a time of high tensions and increasing contact between potential belligerents, anything that promotes transparency and openness is welcome.

Be Way
February 6, 2013 at 01:09

Whatever is the case, at least the Chinese are brave and courageous enough to fight a real battle instead of running away as what this parasitic old uncle want to lie.

John Chan
February 6, 2013 at 00:55

What is the difference between Tiananmen Square a PLA operation and Wall St. Occupation a Homeland Security Operation? Both of them are suppressing freedom of speech; siding the interest of the ruling oligarchies; and maintaining the oppressive regimes.
Be Way or other Chinese bloggers are not denying the wrong doings in China, they only expose the slandering made on China for insidious purposes like you. On the other nobody has ever seen you and their anti-China clique exposing the ugliness and wrong doings in the West and its lackeys.
How different can you be? When the CIA and Dick Cheney School Imperialism tell you the sky is clear even it is spread with Agent Orange, you still insist the sky is clear and kiss the murderers as god sent saviour of those mentally colonized Asians.

John Chan
February 6, 2013 at 00:37

@Lady Sang-Hwa,
Be Way meant how ugly the American was when they got surrounded, they left their tens of thousands South Korean soldiers behind to be wiped out, meanwhile themselves ran like a hell southwards throwing their tanks, trucks, weapons behind.
Fabricating Hollywood style make-believe to gloss over the embarrassing runaway from battlefields is really a laughing stock behaviour.

February 6, 2013 at 00:31

China has made its intentions known by pointing their radar at a Japanese Carrier. They are trying very hard to get Japan to shoot first. How can some people pretend like China wants to be open and peaceful while at the same time China is provoking someone to shoot at them to start a war? The US has led from behind and will face the consequences… weakness is provocative to bullies. Obama should launch pre-emptive cyber war immediately with the regular military ready to go if required. Stop reacting, no one ever wins a war by playing defense only.

John Chan
February 6, 2013 at 00:25

By your logic, the USA is coward, it sneaky attacked at Inchon, getting a sucker punch when a person is not expecting when a person is not expecting, it would be something that a USA 5 star general should not do; an underhand dirty trick to degrade the reputation of a world superpower. BTW how many the American and its lackeys died in the war even with superior weaponry?

John Chan
February 6, 2013 at 00:13

@Kangmin Zheng,
By your logic, Japanese is coward and very afraid of Russia, China, Korea, and USA.

February 5, 2013 at 17:31

Chinese BISMARCK Plan of Asia…

Mark Fujiyama
February 5, 2013 at 15:31

"Kim's Uncle' my foot.  More like a "Monkey's Uncle".   This is just another good-for-nothing-Amerikan sponger who won't find an honest job but prefers to do the CIA's dirty work slandering other people and countries.  He is just a pest here.  A detestable one.

Leonard R.
February 5, 2013 at 15:22

The PLAN has been very transparent. It has seized islands belonging to Vietnam and the Philippines. It has killed unarmed Filipino and Vietnamese fishermen. It has surrounded and harassed a US naval vessel. It has ordered a Indian naval vessel sailing in international waters to get out.  What could be more transparent than that? 
The allegations that the PLAN lacks transparency are misplaced. It is plain what the PLAN has been up to. One need only look at the facts.

Luke Percy
February 5, 2013 at 13:55

Wood worms Re crawling out with idiotic comments.

Kangmin Zheng
February 5, 2013 at 12:47

Kim is right.   PLAN killed innocent Fillipinoes and Vietnamese Fishermen.   CCP or PLAN dared to say a word when Russia killed Chinese fishermen.   Russia also took huge land north of China.   CCP is coward and very afraid of Russia.

Kim's Uncle
February 5, 2013 at 11:41

@be way,

I forgot, are u referring to the Korean War? Allies rolled up to the Yalu river and a horde of chinamen sneek attack on the allies? Getting a sucker punch when a person is not expecting it would be something that i would not be too proud of. It just shows the sneaky nature Mao. Btw did you how many Chinese died in the war? LOL

Lady Sang-Hwa
February 5, 2013 at 11:34

You mean the famous Chinese waves after waves tried to overwhelm US positions and cut down by US machineguns? 

Kim's Uncle
February 5, 2013 at 11:25

Tiananmen Square was a PLA operation! :). Stop living in denial. Is that why in China YouTube is banned? Type Tiananmen Square you’ll get nothing on google china! It is sad you only defend china out of some twisted since of pride and not because right and wrong! CCP is not China! There are good Chinese people who can see this and are working for a better china while you reflexively defend the regime whether they are right or wrong! If CCP tells you the sky is orange, you’ll come here and insist the sky is orange when everyone knows it is blue!

John Chan
February 5, 2013 at 10:30

As a Chinese it is good enough for the PLA to put Vietnamese, the Pinoy  and the Japanese in boxes they dare not step outside; it’s a bonus if they can put others to toe the line too.

Be Way
February 5, 2013 at 06:18

Kim's Uncle, Kim's Aunty, Kim Mistress, Kim wife, Kim son - what a bunch of Kim leechers crawling around like the despotic Kim family of North Korea.    Before you attempt to write your nonsensical comment, maybe a quick research with U.S Army on how they fared against the poorly equipped Chinese army during the Korean War or with the Indian Army on what is the outcome of the India-China border war.

Kim's Uncle
February 5, 2013 at 04:23

PLAN is similar to its counterpart on land the PLA.  These organizations are both adept at conducting operations which include massacring unarmed civilians whether land or sea.  China's armed forces are not good at operating in an environment where its foe can shoot back.  Under this situation PLAN or PLA is nowhere to be seen.  China's armed forces have an infamous reputation to uphold!  

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