China sends advanced warships to the Baltic Sea for war games with Russia

The Chinese navy's guided missile frigate Jingzhou (FFG 532) is docked at Sarayburnu pier in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 18, 2017.
The Chinese navy's guided missile frigate Jingzhou (FFG 532) is docked at Sarayburnu pier in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 18, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW - China has sent some of its most advanced warships to the Baltic Sea to join Russian vessels for week-long exercises.

It is the first joint operation by the two regional giants in European waters, according to a report on the People's Liberation Army's official website, CNN reported.

The Russian and Chinese defence ministries have confirmed the participation of a Chinese guided-missile destroyer in the war games.

Training will include anti-submarine warfare and air defence drills, the Russian Ministry of Defence said. Russia has a naval base in the enclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Nato allies Poland and Lithuania, and this will serve as the headquarters for the exercise, CNN said.

China said the joint drills would be the first for the Type 052D destroyer Hefei, which was commissioned less than two years ago. It is being joined by a missile frigate, a supply ship and about 10 Russian ships.

Nato allies have been keeping a close watch on the Chinese fleet.

British, Dutch and Danish warships have at various times been escorting the Chinese flotilla as it made its way to the drills through the English Channel and across the North Sea.

In announcing the Baltic drills, China said they are not aimed at any "third party".

But the state-run Global Times newspaper quoted Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie as saying there is a message in the presence of a top-of-the-line warship, CNN said.

"By sending its most advanced guided-missile destroyers, China is expressing its sincerity to Russia and also sends a strong signal to other countries who plan to provoke us," Li was quoted as saying.

The Chinese ships' voyage to the Baltic is the end of a 16,000km journey, which included passing through the Mediterranean where they conducted live-fire training last week, according to China's Ministry of Defence.

Those exercises went on while another Chinese flotilla, led by the guided-missile destroyer Changchun, was also in the Mediterranean, most recently engaging in drills with the Italian Navy, CNN said.

"Beijing has begun dispatching its navy on increasingly wide-ranging forays, providing its personnel with critical experience in blue-water operations," CNN quoted an analysis from the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor as saying.

Magnus Nordenman, deputy director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, says with China's increasing role in world trade means it would want to be able to protect access to ports in northern Europe.

Last week, Beijing sent ships with troops to formally open a military base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa. China's first overseas military base will provide a critical role in supporting Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean and on more far-flung voyages.