By Patrick Goodenough

September 15, 2021



( – Some of China’s most advanced warships appear to be among four People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels that sailed within the exclusive economic zone of the United States, off Alaska, at the end of August.

A photo taken by the U.S. Coast Guard at the time but posted on the Pentagon’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service website only this week, shows three Chinese vessels photographed from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf.

A second photo shows the cutter’s captain communicating with one of the Chinese vessels.

A statement from the U.S. Coast Guard said Bertholf and a second Coast Guard cutter, Kimball, “observed four ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) operating as close as 46 miles off the Aleutian Island coast.”

“While the ships were within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, they followed international laws and norms and at no point entered U.S. territorial waters,” it said.

The Coast Guard said the four ships were “a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel.”

It did not identify the ships further, but three weeks ago the Chinese Communist Party paper Global Times report mentioned a PLAN taskforce of four ships transiting the Soya strait, north of Japan, before entering the Pacific Ocean. A Chinese journalist also tweeted about the taskforce.

The ships were identified as the Type 055 destroyer Nanchang, the Type 052D destroyer Guiyang, an electronic surveillance ship, and a supply vessel.

Nanchang, the Type 055 guided missile destroyer (or “guided missile cruiser” in NATO classification), is a new class of 10,000-ton ship which, according to the Pentagon, boasts “a large load out of weapons including ASCMs [anti-ship cruise missiles], surface-to-air missiles, and anti-submarine weapons along with likely LACMs [land-attack cruise missiles] and anti-ship ballistic missiles.”

One of China’s newest warships, the Nanchang (hull number 101) was first seen publicly during an April 2019 naval parade off Shandong province commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of PLAN.

Meanwhile the Type 052D destroyer carries “advanced anti-ship and anti-air weapons and sensors, boosting the PLAN’s area air defense and anti-surface warfare capabilities,” according to a June 2021 Congressional Research Service report.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the PLAN ships came within 46 miles of the Aleutian Islands, which would be in international waters, but well within the 200 nautical mile-wide U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), as defined under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Under the convention, territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles (14 miles) from a country’s coastline low-water mark.

The PLAN task force deployment comes at a time of ongoing tensions between the U.S. and China over rights of passage in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety, rejecting the territorial and maritime claims of at least six other countries in the region.

The U.S. Navy regularly carries out “freedom of navigation” patrols in the area, a crucial waterway for around two-thirds of the world’s shipborne trade.

One week ago the U.S. Navy reported that the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its carrier strike group had entered the South China Sea as “part of the U.S. Navy’s routine presence in the Indo-Pacific.”

The release referred to “upholding a rules-based international order” and support for “a free and open Indo-Pacific region” – terms regularly used in connection with the disputes over China’s claims in the South China Sea.

After the U.S. Navy Chief of Information, Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, posted on Twitter about the Vinson carrier strike group deployment, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, Hu Xijin, tweeted in response, “Hopefully when Chinese warships pass through the Caribbean Sea or show up near Hawaii and Guam one day, the U.S. will uphold the same standard of freedom of navigation. That day will come soon.”

“The U.S. Navy has upheld the standards of freedom of navigation longer than the PLA navy has existed,” Brown responded.