On June 21, Chinese state media reported that a People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLAN) flotilla led by Type 055 Destroyer ‘Lhasa’ sailed from the northwest to the east and south sides of Japan after making transits in three strategically important straits close to the island nation.
The Chinese report further stated that the vessels were expected to make a complete circle around Japan if they continued on their path before returning to base. The Chinese naval transit coincided with the Russian vessels also circumnavigating Japan. However, no direct connection was established between the two.
After weeks of monitoring the adversarial warship movement near its territory, Japan presented a detailed version of the events.
According to the Japanese Defense Ministry, the advanced Chinese destroyer circled Japan with escorts in its first far-sea exercises last week in striking similarity with Russian naval forces that were on a similar mission.
The Type 055 guided-missile destroyer Lhasa, the Type 052D guided-missile destroyer Chengdu, and the Type 903A supply ship Dongpinghu wrapped up an 18-day circumnavigation of the major islands of Japan on June 29, according to information released on June 30 by the Japanese Joint Staff.
On June 12, the Lhasa sailed through the Tsushima Strait, separating Japan from the Korean peninsula. It then traveled northeast in the Japan Sea, passing through the Soya Strait, separating Sakhalin from Hokkaido, on June 16 and 17.
PLA Navy’s 2nd Type 055 large destroyer, the Lhasa, is reportedly holding its 1st far sea drills by entering the Sea of Japan, with experts saying that the ship has achieved full operational capability. pic.twitter.com/Sqdm93d6g4
— Zhang Meifang张美芳 (@CGMeifangZhang) June 15, 2022
The destroyer then transited through the Pacific Ocean in a southern direction before turning west on June 21 through the Izu Islands and then making its way back to the East China Sea on June 29 via the Miyako Strait in Okinawa Islands.
It is pertinent to note that Okinawa Islands are home to an American military base.
For most of the journey, the Chengdu and Dongpinghu accompanied the Lhasa. However, the Dongpinghu avoided the Soya Strait in favor of a faster route across the Tsugaru Strait between Hokkaido and Honshu. Japan sent frigates and spy planes to keep an eye on the Chinese Navy.
According to the Japanese government, a group of Russian navy warships led by the Udaloy-class destroyer Admiral Panteleyev transited along the same route from the Pacific between June 15 and 21.
A 3-ship #Chinese #Navy task group circumnavigated Japan from 12-30 June, latest in a series of provocative moves by the Chinese military. Two destroyers – Type 055 LHASA 102 & Type 052D CHENGDU 120 with the Type 903 supply ship DONGPINGHU 903 – were tracked by Japanese forces pic.twitter.com/JDiQEuxeGF
— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) July 1, 2022
EurAsian Times had earlier reported that China sent two coast guard ships to navigate through Japanese territorial waters close to a group of disputed islands for more than 64 hours.
One of the Chinese ships passed within 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) of the Senkaku Islands, beyond the internationally accepted 12-mile (19.3-kilometer) line that denotes a country’s territorial waters.
Japan In The High Tide
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Japanese government led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has declared its determination to pursue a more active role in maintaining regional security. The increasing partnership between Russia and China is seen as a threat to its security by Tokyo.
Japan has territorial disputes with China and Russia, with Beijing over the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and Moscow over the Kuril Islands or Northern Territories separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the Northern Pacific.
Since mid-June, the constant presence of the warships from the two countries has been the longest since China and Russia announced a 10-ship joint patrol around Japan in October 2021.
“This is a display of military presence around Japan and can be considered a show of force,” read the statement of Japan’s Ministry of Defense.
Further, China’s largest destroyer fielding has become significant due to escalating regional tensions. Japan is a staunch US ally, and due to its geographical proximity to Taiwan, it will inevitably be drawn into a conflict with the latter decides to invade Taiwan.
Earlier in April, China sent its four Type 055 Renhai-class destroyers to its east coast in a show of strength when the US Carrier Strike Group was conducting military drills with Japan near the Korean peninsula.
— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) April 11, 2022
The Lhasa far-sea transit around Japan comes almost a month after Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense report on June 5 said China would be ready to invade the self-ruled island state by 2027 by strengthening its war fighting capabilities.
The report cited by local media also mentioned that China would mass-produce its Type 055 Destroyers, among other systems.
The Lethal Type 055 Destroyers
The Type 055 destroyer in the Indo-Pacific region is the biggest threat to the United States and its allies, including Japan.
The Type 055 destroyer was unveiled in 2017, and as per the NATO standards, it is large enough to be categorized as a cruiser. It contains 112 vertical launch tubes that can fire various missiles, such as anti-ship long-range land-attack projectiles.
These 13,000-ton stealth-guided missile destroyers are the most potent surface fighters in the world. Chinese military analysts have stated that Lhasa has reached 100% operational capability and can conduct military missions in the far sea as the core of a flotilla.
“This ship, in particular, has a sophisticated design, stealth features, radars, and a large missile inventory. It is larger and more powerful than most US, Japanese, and South Korean destroyers,” RAND Corp senior analyst Timothy Heath had told CNN.
An April video surfaced on social media highlighted Type 055’s lethality. It showed a Type 055 ship launching what was reportedly a hypersonic YJ-21 anti-ship ballistic missile, also known as a “carrier killer.”
The PLAN’s Type 055 Destroyers have become a pillar of the Chinese Navy, known to be the largest in the world by fleet size.
The Type-055 Class is China’s answer to the US Navy’s AEGIS cruisers. They serve a crucial role in guarding China’s aircraft carriers, as they are large and heavily armed, EurAsian Times had observed in a previous report.