Chinese naval ship heads for Philippines on ‘friendship tour’

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s largest naval training ship departed for the Philippines on Friday, the final stop of a regional “friendly” trip amid growing concerns over China’s maritime activities in the South China Sea.

The giant training ship Qijiguang, larger than a typical destroyer, left Brunei Thursday for the Philippines as part of a roughly 40-day voyage that included stops in Vietnam and Thailand before Brunei.

At the end of their journey, Qijiguang and his crew of 476 naval students and officers would have crossed the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand and the western Pacific.

The ship’s training, which is named after a Ming Dynasty general who fought Japanese pirates, will focus on navigation, anti-piracy and light weapons target practice, according to Chinese state media, which described its voyage in the region as had “friendly”.

His impending arrival in the Philippines comes amid tensions with its neighbors over the South China Sea, which is largely claimed by China but parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

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The visit also comes immediately after the first trilateral Coast Guard exercise between the Philippines, Japan and the United States that ended on Wednesday.

The Philippines has intensified military ties with the United States this year, conducting more exercises and even allowing the US access to local military bases. The decision angered China, as Manila said the access would be useful if Chinese forces attacked Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.

To further escalate tensions, the Philippines last month placed navigational buoys on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, prompting China to do the same.

On May 23-25, the training vessel docked in Vietnam, overlapping a Chinese research vessel’s voyage in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from May 7 to June 6. The research vessel’s presence sparked a rare protest from Hanoi.

The ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will hold its first multilateral military exercise in the South China Sea in September, its chairman Indonesia said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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