The Chinese government has released video footage and pictures, seen at the top of this story and below, showing Japan’s aircraft carrier Izumo sailing remarkably close to the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s own flattop Liaoning and its escorts during recent exercises in the Pacific. This comes after Japanese officials announced plans to set up a military hotline with their counterparts in China to help de-escalate potential alterations in the future.
The office of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) first announced that it had observed Liaoning, along with a Type 052D destroyer, a Type 054A frigate, and a Type 901 replenishment ship, transiting from the East China Sea into the western Pacific Ocean southeast of Okinawa on Dec. 15. The Chinese flotilla then moved farther southeast and conducted a series of drills, including the launch and recovery of J-15 fighter jets from the Liaoning, as well as flights by Z-9 and Z-18 helicopters. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels subsequently returned to the East China Sea on Dec. 25.
Japanese authorities had previously said that Izumo, together with the destroyer Akizuki, had monitored the Chinese activities. JSDF P-1 and P-3 maritime patrol planes had also helped keep an eye on the PLAN exercises, and Japanese fighter jets were scrambled at times in response to Chinese J-15s flying from Liaoning. Footage showing a Japanese F-15J Eagle fighter jet intercepting a Chinese J-15, shot from the latter aircraft’s cockpit during these recent drills, has been released, as well.
In general, one country’s naval vessels shadowing those of another in international waters, especially when foreign warships come relatively close to a nation’s territorial waters, happens on a regular basis around the world. At present, there is no indication one way or another that either Chinese or Japanese forces acted in dangerous or otherwise unprofessional ways during their encounters earlier this month.
At the same time, it is highly unusual to employ an aircraft carrier in this role and to have it operate so close to the other navy’s ships. Japan, like other countries, more typically employs smaller vessels for shadowing missions. The JSDF seems to have clearly intended, at least in part, to send a signal to its Chinese counterparts about its capabilities and willingness to employ them with these relatively intimate interactions in the western Pacific.
While it is not clear how close the Japanese carrier ever came to any of the PLAN vessels, the distances do appear to be relatively short for such large warships. This degree of proximity would help explain how Japanese forces were able to take the close-up shots of these Chinese counterparts operating in the Pacific that had been included in previous JSDF Joint Staff press releases.