Chinese Navy Hosts Biennial Meeting Of Top Foreign Naval Officials Amidst Conflicts With U.S.

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China’s Navy hosted a biennial meeting of top foreign naval officials in Qingdao on Sunday, a show of military diplomacy that will be closely supervised for signs of additional engagement between the US and China.

The four-day event, which representatives from 30 countries attended, comes at a time when South China Sea tensions are running high due to a fraught standoff between Beijing and Manila, a US treaty ally, about a strategically important waterway that may eventually become a flashpoint in relations between China and the US.

According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Adm. Stephen Koehler, the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, will represent the United States at the Western Pacific Naval Symposium.

Reports from official media indicate that delegations from South Korea, Britain, India, Australia, France, and Russia are present.

Participants will likely have closed-door conversations on Monday, with seminars on topics like dealing with maritime security challenges.

They will also discuss the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, a series of guidelines formulated a decade back, meant to de-escalate the tensions between militaries while at sea.

A preliminary meeting in January revolved around creating a working group to deter drone collisions at sea.

The event overlaps with yearly US-Philippines large-scale joint military drills starting on Monday, which will take place outside the Philippines’ territorial waters for the first time.

Tensions are currently incredibly high around the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, where Manila has reportedly accused Beijing of “harassment”, including the use of water cannons against Philippine vessels.

The US, the Philippines, and Japan signed a cooperation deal at a trilateral summit last week.

The leaders expressed worries regarding China’s aggressive and dangerous behaviour in the South China Sea, which Beijing has slammed as “bloc politics.”

Cao Weidong, a military specialist and ex-researcher at the Chinese PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said that the US-Philippines joint drills now expect to cover a larger region, involve additional troops, and comprise exercises outside the original defensive scope, like anti-missile and anti-submarine drills.

Weidong added that it is not an issue when the US accomplishes defensive drills with the Philippines, but when the drills turn out to be offensive and pose a risk to neighbouring nations, the country needs to be on high alert and be quick to respond.

However, China and Washington resumed high-level military contact on Tuesday, with Lloyd Austin, the Defense Secretary, speaking to his Chinese counterpart for the first time in two years as both nations strive to restore military ties.

This month, the Chinese and US military officials gathered in Hawaii.

China is hosting the multilateral meeting for the first time since 2014, coinciding this year with the 75th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy on Tuesday.

Beijing wants to increase the size of its ocean-going fleet, which some experts believe will surpass all others globally by 2035.

President Xi Jinping has repeatedly requested the establishment of a leading military by 2027, the hundredth anniversary of the formation of the People’s Liberation Army.

As the US and its allies intensify their naval activities in the Indo-Pacific, China has yet to begin the sea trials for its upcoming aircraft carrier, the Fujian.

This is a critical step towards growing Chinese maritime presence in the region.

There are reports that China and other participating countries, particularly Japan, have become involved in territorial or maritime disputes.

Beijing and Tokyo have accused one another of maritime incursions following a Coast Guard confrontation in December near the heavily disputed islands off the East China Sea.

The Shijiazhuang and Guiyang missile destroyers were among the active Chinese warships that the Navy permitted the public to tour during the Qingdao meeting.

Journalists from Reuters recently embarked on a guided tour and observed rescue and weaponry systems.

Kids eagerly posed for photographs with missile launchers.

The symposium was last organised in November 2022 in Japan.

Japan, South Korea, and the US met behind closed doors to discuss security issues in the Indo-Pacific area, notably those posed by North Korea.

Reference: TOI

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