China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently practiced loading various military vehicles on non-military vessels of a state-owned shipbuilder industry, according to a recent video by state-owned CCTV. This signals a rising trend of using civilian ships for military training.
The drill involved the docking of several military vehicles, including heavy armor and infantry vehicles, and took place at the dispatch center of the Zhengzhou Joint Logistics Support Center.
It was touted as a logistic exercise involving loading and unloading military vehicles.
The civilian vessels belonged to the state-owned COSCO Shipping. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) boasts one of the biggest shipping industries in the world and owns a record number of civilian ships with robust year-on-year growth.
In what could be a recipe for trouble in the Indo-Pacific, China is increasingly pressing its civilian vessels for military duty. This is significant as it comes at a time of heightened military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait and growing tensions with the United States.
Earlier, several images doing the rounds online showed a massive military convoy of military trucks, main battle tanks (MBT), and armored fighting vehicles (AFV) at civilian ports. The photos also showed these military vehicles moving in and out of passenger ships and car carriers, as previously reported by EurAsian Times.
At the time, Chinese defense enthusiasts stated that the move resembled what seemed to be an extensive preparation for an invasion of Taiwan.
Moreover, Western military experts have long flagged China’s design to use roll-on-roll-over (RoRo) ships and car carriers that can also serve as amphibious transport ships during a future Taiwan intervention.
The concern is not without reason. Days after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August this year that ignited a spate of military exercises surrounding Taiwan, the PLA also conducted a drill with civilian vessels.
On August 31, it conducted a major exercise demonstrating how it may employ huge civilian ferries to begin a massive amphibious invasion of Taiwan.
As part of those drills, the PLAN deployed an amphibious landing craft at a Chinese beach close to the Taiwan Strait with several large warships and civilian ferries deployed offshore.
China has not officially acknowledged its use of civilian ferries or fishing vessels that have doubled as a maritime militia in intimidating small, rival countries with which Beijing has maritime disputes.
However, Taiwan has all reasons to worry. Military experts have asserted on several occasions that any Chinese invasion would begin with an amphibious assault. Besides transporting PLA troops, these civilian vessels could also possibly come in handy in shipping heavy military vehicles, as demonstrated by PLA recently.
Meanwhile, with China’s expanding military activity in the region, the United States is looking to counter-balance the Chinese presence to some measure.
US Expanding Presence In The Philippines
On November 15, the Philippines announced that under a 2014 joint security deal, its major defense ally, the United States, had agreed to start the construction of training and warehouse facilities at three of its military bases. The overall cost of the new construction has been pegged at $66.5 million.
Construction projects under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the US are scheduled for implementation at the agreed locations in 2023.
The Philippines Ministry of Defense said in a statement, “The department is committed to accelerating the implementation of the EDCA by concluding infrastructure enhancement and repair projects and developing new infrastructure projects at existing EDCA locations.”
This comes after a Filipino diplomat to the US said in September that The Philippines would allow US troops to use its military installations in case of a conflict with Taiwan. The only precondition, however, would be that such permission will be granted if it is critical for the security of the South East Asian country.
Currently, the US is permitted to keep a rotating military presence at five locations in the Philippines owing to the bilateral Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in 2014. Presently, the US bases its forces as a part of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) on Philippine-controlled islands in the Scarborough Shoal.
Reliance on a trusted regional partner for infrastructure and logistical support gives impetus to the United States in case of a contingency. Last month, the Philippines announced that it will have 496 defense and security engagements with the US in 2023 as the world’s coronavirus situation improves.
Manila has continued to cooperate with the West despite maintaining a line of contact and efforts at reconciliation with China. It was earlier reported that the P-8 Poseidon of the Royal Australian Air Force intercepted by J-16s flew over the South China Sea from Clarks Air Base in the Philippines.
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