A Chinese naval fleet is making the rounds of Nordic countries this week. A trio of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels – a missile destroyer, a missile frigate, and a replenishment ship – has visited Denmark, Finland, and Sweden in the past two weeks on goodwill visits. For each of those countries, it was the first time PLAN vessels had paid a port call.
According to China’s Ministry of Defense, PLAN Fleet 152 is on a “round-the-globe voyage” after wrapping up a four-month anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. Denmark, Finland, and Sweden were the third, fourth, and fifth stops (respectively) for the fleet, led by the guided-missile destroyer Jinan. The first two stops were Sudan and Egypt.
IHS Jane’s Navy International provided further details on the three vessels, identifying them as “the Type 052C Luyang II-class guided-missile destroyer Jinan (152), the Type 054A Jiangkai II-class guided-missile frigate Yiyang (548), and the Type 903 Fuchi-class replenishment ship Qiandao Hu (886).” Finland’s YLE News pointed out that the Jinan and Yiyang are among the PLAN’s most modern ships, having been completed in late 2014. The Qiandao, meanwhile, was commissioned a decade earlier, in 2004.
The tour of northern Europe fits with the PLAN’s wish to demonstrate its global capabilities, and also reflect China’s interest in the Arctic states. Denmark, Finland, and Sweden are all members of the Arctic Council, a group China joined as a permanent observer state in 2013. Since China is not an Arctic state itself, it will have to rely on close ties with regional countries to access natural resources (particularly oil and gas) that are slowly being made more accessible thanks to ice melts.
China also demonstrated a naval interest in the Arctic by passing through the Bering Sea in early September after joint military exercises with Russia. In both that case and this month’s PLAN tour of Nordic states, the PLAN is both demonstrating its capability to operate in new regions and signaling its interest in the Arctic region.
PLAN Fleet 152 plans to spend five days in Sweden, after having arrived there on September 30. Wang Jianxun, the fleet commander and general commander of the Jinan, outlined the plan for their stay: “We are going to have dignatory visits and organize cultural and sports activities. The ships will open to the public, [and] the Chinese naval servicemen and their Swedish counterparts will visit each other.”
The PLAN vessels had similar activities in Denmark and Finland, spending five days as well in each of those countries. In all three Nordic countries, the vessels were greeted at port by the overseas Chinese community.
Chinese media reports did not indicate where Fleet 152 will head next, although its tour is supposed to take it to seven countries in total (meaning two more stops). The obvious next stop for the fleet would be the final Scandinavian country, Norway – but, as Benjamin David Baker has pointed out for The Diplomat, China-Norway ties remain largely frozen, due to lingering tensions over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.