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The warship column then sailed northward toward the East China Sea near Taiwanese and Japanese territorial waters.

The exercise included anti-submarine warfare tactics, joint helicopter and ship operations, and high-seas armed pursuit, as well as a series of “patriotic” propaganda activities that were covered extensively by an onboard Chinese state-run television crew.

A key feature of this drill marked the first time PLA warships conducted long-distance operations without supply ships sailing behind. State media hailed the action as “a key accomplishment” that testifies to a navy’s ability to obtain provisions, fuel and ammunition from overseas, land-based supply depots.


A central point of contention between China and Japan over the past few weeks has involved a dispute over whether a Chinese naval ship aimed its fire-control radar on Japanese military units, as Japan’s government has said.

Japan accused China of recklessly locking the ship-based fire-control radar on a Japanese military helicopter on Jan. 19 and on a Japanese destroyer on Jan. 30, pushing Japan ever closer to taking military action and possibly triggering a major conflict between the world’s second- and third-largest economies.

After days of silence, the Chinese government denied the allegation and dared the Japanese to provide evidence of the Chinese action that, in naval terms, is considered a hostile act.

The Japanese government initially said it would release the sensitive military radar data as proof.

But defense analysts think the Chinese wanted to know how the Japanese defense system obtained the radar-detection data.

A senior Japanese defense official was quoted by The Japan Times as saying that providing the data to China would have “great risk in terms of defense, as it would mean that Chinese military authorities would be looking at the [Maritime Self-Defense Force’s] secrets concerning information-gathering operations.”

Diplomatic gamesmanship also is involved, as providing strong evidence might corner China into a position that could lead Beijing to openly declare war on Japan.

Many U.S. and Japan defense and intelligence officials prefer to provide China with sanitized technical data as evidence, without endangering defense technology and without the risk of embarrassing China into taking more dangerous action.

The United States officially backed Japan on the radar issue.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at