In this tension-filled period following an international tribunal hearing in the Hague, which ruled that China has no rightful claim to almost all of the South China Sea, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) unveiled a series of weapons for air and sea combat during a visit by prominent officers.
It is uncharacteristic and rare for the Chinese military to make such military revelations. The Southern Theater Command of the PLA bore this significant intel by displaying the weapons on state television.
State media CCTV broadcast footage of PLA troops in the southern theater handling a DF-16 missile – a powerful artillery capable of reaching up to 1,000km and which could strike US military bases in Okinawa. The DF-16 was first presented on September 3 during a military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of War World II.
Earlier sources had reported that the PLA was equipped with the even larger and more destructive DF-21D missiles, ominously known as “carrier-killer” anti-ship ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,450km.
The CCTV video also showed new H-6K bombers, and disclosed that a division of jets has been deployed to the southern theater to patrol Scarborough Shoal.
But why would a military so keen on keeping its missions a secret suddenly reveal their massive weaponry on state television? As a political statement, experts say.
According to the South China Morning Post, military experts said the PLA’s disclosure “was intended to to show that the newly formed Southern Theater Command…was well-prepared for any potential military confrontation with the US.”
State news agency Xinhua announced Tuesday that in an inspection tour following the tribunal’s ruling, General Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the PLA, urged his troops to train hard to meet any challenges.
“Air and sea patrols should be tightly organized to handle all kinds of emergencies to ensure security of sea and air borders,” General Fan said.
Commander of the PLA airforce General Ma Xiaotian and General Wei Fenghe, chief of the army’s Rocket Force, were also present.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie told SCMP General Fan’s visit demonstrated that China’s military could carry out joint combat operations – land, rocket, naval, and air.
“All the weapons showed on state media are defensive arms of short to medium range within 1,500km, meaning China so far is using restrained deterrence to warn the US not to challenge Beijing’s bottom line in the South China Sea,” Mr. Li said.