RAN, JMSDF, Royal Navy and US Navy Could Soon Face Chinese Type 055 Destroyer

An aerial view of the disputed Subi reef shows China's construction of maritime and aerial facilities on reclaimed land in 2017 [File: Francis R Malasig/EPA]

According to some pictures released on the Chinese social media Weibo, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is preparing to deploy a new, heavily armed Type 055 destroyer intended to offer sea attack, air defenses and wartime support to carrier strike groups.

Type 055 Destroyer

The Type 055 destroyer is a class of guided missile destroyers being constructed for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Force. It is a multi-mission design; the combination of sensors and weapons suggests the main role of area air defence, with anti-submarine warfare capabilities surpassing previous Chinese surface combatants.

The new destroyers are designed to adopt modern air-air warfare, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapon systems to complement China’s future carrier strike groups. Type 055 is expected to undertake expeditionary missions and form the primary escort for Chinese aircraft carriers.

What is the South China Sea dispute about?

China along with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia hold different, sometimes overlapping, territorial claims over the waterway. China claims more than 80 per cent over territory stretching up to 2000kms from the Chinese mainland, to Indonesia and Malaysia.

An aerial view of the disputed Subi reef shows China’s construction of maritime and aerial facilities on reclaimed land in 2017 [File: Francis R Malasig/EPA]

Why is the waterway important?

The South China Sea is a vital trading link that connects Asia with Europe and Africa, its seabed also holds oil and gas fields. One third of global shipping – worth $4.8 trillion of international trade – passes through the sea.

An aerial view of construction at Mabini (Johnson) Reef by China, in the disputed Spratley Islands, in the south China Sea. (Armed Forces of Philippines)

It has continued to expand its facilities in the South China Sea regardless, including a three km (1.86 miles) military-grade runway, barracks and radars on Mischief Reef, which is within the Philippine EEZ.

Freedom of Navigation

On Monday, the US raised the stakes saying “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources” across most of the disputed seas were “completely unlawful”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added that the world would “not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.” In response, Beijing accused Washington of unnecessarily inflaming the situation.

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Earlier, the US deployed the warships, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan to assert what it calls its freedom of navigation in the waters. A sailor on one of the ships told Al Jazeera that the operations could last for weeks. China held a large-scale naval exercise in the area from July 1 to 5.

On Wednesday, Pompeo issued another statement saying the US would “support countries all across the world who recognise that China has violated their legal territorial claims as well – or maritime claims as well.”

He also urged Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam to help the Philippines in explaining that China’s claim of “historic right” is “totally false.”

“We should continue resorting to the rule of law, because we have no other choice”

RAN Will Not Be A Bystander

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) talk with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at a dinner event in Canberra on February 10, 2020. (Setneg/Handout)

Australia will continue to advocate “very strongly” for the freedom of navigation through the South China sea, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds and Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan at the acceptance ceremony of air warfare destroyers of Royal Australian Navy.

“Australia will continue to adopt a very consistent position,” Morrison told a media briefing in Canberra when asked if the country backed the position of the United States on the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department urges all navies from around the world should be encouraged to sail through the South China Sea and exercise freedom of navigation – to deliver a message to Beijing that it does not control the area.

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