The Pakistani Navy and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) have concluded their first-ever exercise in the East China Sea. The exercise, which took place from December 31, 2015 to January 1, 2016, was part of a seven-day visit to Shanghai by a Pakistani naval taskforce consisting of a frigate and a supply ship. According to the Chinese defense ministry, the exercise included a joint drill focused on ship formation movement, search and rescue, and live-fire exercises striking aerial and sea targets. The exercise also included an anti-piracy component and, according to a CCTV report, an anti-submarine warfare component.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Defense, the Pakistani taskforce was headed by Commodore Bilal Abdul Nadir, who heads the 25th Destroyer Flotilla of the Pakistani Navy. The two ships that participated in the exercise included the PNS Shamsheer, the second of Pakistan’s four Zulfiquar-class frigates, and a 25-ton supply ship, the Nasr. On the PLAN’s part, at least two missile frigates participated in the exercises — most likely, two of the PLAN East Sea fleet’s four Jiangkai-II-class frigates. Nadir, in an interview with the Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, described the exercises as “very significant,” noting that they would “enhance the interoperability and cohesion between the two navies.”
The Pakistani taskforce had visited Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei, before arriving in Shanghai. It is next expected to visit Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, according to the Chinese defense ministry. A report in China Military Online clarified that the visit represented the Nasr‘s fourth and the seventh overall port call by Pakistani naval vessels in Shanghai.
Nadir’s taskforce was met in Shanghai last Monday by Rear Admiral Shen Hao, deputy commander of the PLAN’s East Sea Fleet. On the evening of December 28, Shen held a welcoming reception kicking off the visit. The exercise underlines growing naval cooperation between China and Pakistan, two close allies. Though cooperation between the two states on military matters has focused primarily on counter-terrorism, land drills, and joint development of military technology (such as the JF-17 Thunder fighter), Beijing and Islamabad are looking to broaden the scope of their cooperation.
Though the exercise is the first of its kind between the two navies in the East China Sea, it likely does not indicate an expanded Pakistani naval presence in the area. The East China Sea is a flashpoint between China and Japan. Both countries claim sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which Japan currently administers. In 2013, China declared a unilateral air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea. Despite increasing global and regional attention to disputes in the East and South China Seas, Pakistan has largely kept quiet.