A Chinese military ship is traveling in the disputed South China Sea to train its sailors and visit other countries. China hopes to spread goodwill, strengthen its claim to the disputed sea and reduce Australia’s influence in the area.
China has upset many Asian countries since 2010 by using small islands in the South China Sea for military purposes. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all claim part of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer body of water. China claims about 90% of the sea.
The naval ship Qi Jiguang left port in late September on a two-month trip for military training and visits to foreign countries. That information comes from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s military news service. The ship plans to visit Brunei, East Timor, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. It is the second such trip since 2017.
“This is an unusual case as far as I can see,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan. “I think (China) is probably exercising its soft power, particularly to try to convince the region that China is a benign power, it’s not an antagonistic power.”
A goodwill operation could ease international pressure on China to restrict its expansion in the South China Sea.
China began trying in 2016 to improve relations with other countries that claim ownership of South China Sea areas. That year, China lost a world court ruling to the Philippines over control of some of the sea. At the same time, China has added military power to islands it already controls.
Visit to Brunei
The naval training ship first visited Brunei for three days, the Chinese military news service reported. More than 300 people, including representatives of the Royal Brunei Navy, showed up for its arrival.
Brunei and China dispute rule over an area of sea about 370 kilometers from Brunei’s coast. The area is considered rich in gas and oil supplies.
All six claimants value the sea for those supplies, as well as for fisheries and shipping lanes. China and Vietnam have fought there periodically since the 1970s. But most of Asia lack China’s military power or technology at sea.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations is pushing China this year to sign an agreement about maritime behavior that could help prevent problems in the disputed sea.
Wider reception for China
Other countries on the training ship’s planned path are not directly involved with the South China Sea dispute. However, they are inside Australia’s traditional area of political influence.
Australia, Japan, India and the United States belong to a group called the “quad” that seeks to restrain China’s maritime expansion. Australian Navy ships sailed twice in the South China Sea earlier this year, followed at times by the Chinese military.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
antagonistic – adj. showing dislike or opposition; unfriendly
benign – adj. not causing death or serious injury; not causing harm or damage
convince – v. to cause someone to believe that something is true
maritime – adj. of or relating to sailing on the sea or doing business such as trading by sea
particularly – adv. more than usually; used to indicate someone or something that deserves special mention
region – n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way