The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force says a Chinese carrier strike group led by aircraft carrier Liaoning sailed between its islands of Okinawa and Miyakojima toward the Pacific Ocean.
A total of six Chinese Navy ships made the transit through the 250 km-wide waterway in the morning hours of Saturday. This is the first such disclosed transit since April 2020.
The task group that headed to the Pacific Ocean days after the US and Australian navies completed an exercise in the Eastern Pacific included a Renhai-class guided missile destroyer, two Luyang III class guided missile destroyers, and one Jiangkai II multi-role frigate. They were accompanied by one Fuyu-class combat support ship.
On their transit through the Miyako Strait, they were escorted by Japanese destroyer JS Suzutsuki, a P-1 maritime patrol aircraft and a P-3C anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft.
Photos shared by JMSDF showed the carrier with an embarked helicopter and what appear to be Shenyang J-15 fighter jets. J-15 is a 4th generation carrier-based fighter developed on the basis of Russian aircraft.
China’s operations with the Russian-built aircraft carrier Liaoning are widely seen as a precursor to more frequent aircraft carrier operations as the country prepares to start operations with two more locally-built aircraft carriers – the Liaoning clone Shandong and an improved, Type 003, carrier.
It should be noted that the passage of the Liaoning carrier strike group through the strait is legal under under international law.
It does, however, come on the heels of a more controversial move by China in the South China Sea, where China dispatched more than two hundred vessels near a disputed reef off the Philippines. Dozens of vessels from the group have been confirmed to be part of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia. China continues to deny these claims.