Chinese Warships Shadow Canadian, U.S., Japanese Warships in East China Sea, the Philippines Resupply Second Thomas Shoal

September 8, 2023 2:40 PM
HMCS Ottawa (FFH-341), JS Izumo (DDH-183) and USS Ralph Johnson underway in the East China Sea. JMSDF Photo

A Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy guided-missile destroyer shadowed U.S., Japanese and Canadian warships as they conducted a trilateral exercise in the East China Sea on Wednesday according to an report by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Meanwhile, on Friday, the Philippines successfully carried out a resupply mission to its outpost at Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands, despite opposing actions by China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia ships.

CBC footage shows a PLAN Type 052D Luyang III-class destroyer sailing near the allied ships along with sailing parallel with the ships as they conducted a photo exercise and making a radio call identifying itself as Chinese warship 161—the hull number for PLAN destroyer CNS Hohhot (161). The CBC media team is embarked on Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Ottawa (FFH-341) which is on deployment to the Indo-Pacific region. The Chinese frigate did not carry out any untoward action and gave way when U.S Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) radioed the PLAN ship that it was going to make a turn according to the CBC report.

PLAN ships operating in the Indo-Pacific routinely shadow Western and Japanese ships operating in the region, particularly in areas where China claims sovereignty such as the South China Sea. In April, Capt. Tony Chavez, then-commanding officer of USS Makin Island (LHD-8), told USNI News during an interview that the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) had been shadowed on occasions by PLAN ships during its deployment. Though interactions were professional, “While we are in the South China Sea, we did see, that China, at the nine-dash line, will challenge you with a shadow, they’ll put a DDG or a frigate, who will shadow the force at about 5 to 8 nautical miles or so, but everything we have conducted with China has been routine and professional. They ask us a couple of questions, we answer them and, after that, they shadow us through the South China Sea as we transition through there,” Chavez said. He elaborated that China’s questions were the ARG ships’ hull numbers, how many personnel on board and direction the ARG was heading, among others, and that some of the questions were answered while others were not. “After that, they’ll maintain their shadow, and we transition and continue operations as normal, they do not stop any of our operations and we continue to transition and operate as we see fit.”

A Friday release by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) stated that helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH-183) and destroyer JS Samidare (DD-106), part of the First Surface Unit of the JMSDF Indo-Pacific Deployment 2023 (IPD23), together with a JMSDF submarine, carried out the trilateral U.S.–Japan–Canada exercise Noble Stingray with Ottawa and Ralph Johnson from Tuesday to Wednesday in the sea and airspace south of Okinawa. “Through the exercise, we improved our tactical capabilities and strengthened cooperation with the U.S. Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy,” said Rear Adm. Takahiro Nishiyama, Commander, First Surface Unit IPD23 and Commander of Escort Flotilla in the release. “The JMSDF will continue to strengthen cooperation with allied and like-minded partners for improving a security environment in the Indo-Pacific region and to promote mutual understanding with countries in the region for maintaining rules-based maritime order.” A second JMSDF release stated that antisubmarine warfare drills were carried out in the exercise.

The Japanese ships and submarine had earlier carried out antisubmarine drills in the South China Sea on Monday while Ralph Johnson on the same day had been conducting a joint sail with the Philippine Navy in the South China Sea. Ottawa, together with sister ship HMCS Vancouver (FFH-331) and fleet oiler MV Asterix, are on a five-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific region, with Ottawa focusing on South East Asia while Vancouver operates in North East Asia and MV Asterix conducts replenishment operations for both frigates and other partner-nation ships in the region. The CBC report also stated that on Tuesday a Dongjian-class surveillance ship passed by Ottawa and, earlier in the morning while it was dark, a small Chinese ship flashed laser lights at Ottawa and launched a drone at it, though the drone kept its distance from the Canadian frigate. Chinese fighter jets also have approached Ottawa at high speed before turning away at a distance of 32 km and a PLAN Jiangkai-class frigate also has been shadowing Ottawa on occasions, according to the CBC report.

On Friday, the Philippines conducted a successful resupply mission of its outpost on the grounded LST BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) at Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands. The resupply mission follows the successful resupply mission on Aug. 22 and a partially successful mission on Aug. 5, in which only one of the two supply ships reached the outpost as the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannons on Philippine ships. Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela stated that PCG patrol vessels BRP Cabra (MRRV-4409) and BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) escorted the two supply boats and were subjected to harassment from China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia ships. “The routine RoRe mission was again subjected to dangerous maneuvers by the four China Coast Guard (CCG 21616, CCG 21551, CCG 21556, and CCG 5305) and four Chinese Maritime Militia (Qiong Sansha Yu 00231, Qiong Sansha Yu 00115, Qiong Sansha Yu 00114, and Qiong Sansha Yu 00008), jeopardizing the crew members’ safety aboard the PCG vessels and Philippine resupply boats,” said Tarriela.

The Philippines National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea issued a release stating that it strongly deplores and condemns the continued illegal, aggressive and destabilizing conduct of the CCG and the CMM within the Philippines economic exclusion zone (EEZ). “We reiterate what President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. said during the recently concluded 43rd ASEAN Summit regarding the South China Sea: ‘Practical cooperation in the maritime domain can only flourish with an enabling environment of regional peace, security and stability anchored in international law,’” read the release.

The China Coast Guard said in a Friday statement that the Philippine ships had entered the area without Chinese government permission. “The Chinese Coast Guard issued stern warnings, followed up throughout the entire process, and effectively regulated Philippine ships in accordance with the law. China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, including Ren’ai Reef and its adjacent waters, and firmly opposes the Philippines’ illegal transportation of illegal building materials to warships that ‘sit on the beach’ illegally. The China Coast Guard will continue to carry out rights protection and law enforcement activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction in accordance with the law,” read the statement.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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