Last week three Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels, including the first-class Type 055 (Renhai-class) large guided-missile destroyer Nanchang sailed through the Tsushima Strait towards the Sea of Japan. This marks the first time that the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has spotted a Type 055 destroyer.
The warships didn’t enter Japan’s territorial waters and didn’t take action that posed any threat to JMSDF vessels or aircraft, according to multiple reports including those from the Japan Times. However, the provocative deployment of the PLAN flotilla, which also included the Type 052D guided-missile destroyer Chengdu and the Type 054A guided-missile frigate Daqing, came just days after Tokyo and Washington released a “2+2 ministers” joint statement.
U.S. and Japanese officials had warned earlier this month against “coercion and destabilizing behavior” by Beijing, including a new Chinese law that recently took measures that would enable its coast guard ships to fire on vessels that sail near contested Senkaku Islands. The uninhabited islands in the East China Sea are currently under Japanese control, but are claimed by China and Taiwan.
China’s foreign ministry has responded that any U.S.-Japanese alliance should not target a third party, the Global Times reported.
As noted, this marks the first deployment of the Renhai-class missile destroyer to the Sea of Japan since it entered service in January 2020. It has been described as one of the world’s most powerful warships and is in the same class as the U.S. Navy‘s own large surface combatants.
It displaces more than 12,000 tons and is around 180 meters in length. It is equipped with 112 vertical launch missile cells that are capable of launching a combination of surface-to-air, anti-ship, land-attack, and anti-submarine missiles. It is also armed with 130-millimeter guns and can carry two helicopters. To date, a total of eight Type 055 guided missile destroyers have been built, and according to reports, two have entered service including the Nanchang, while a second ship Lhasa entered service earlier this year.
The Type 052D-class destroyers are also well armed; designed to provide anti-air area defense to a carrier battle group or amphibious ready group, the 052D has been described as a defensive linchpin of any Chinese task force, particularly one operating beyond the range of land-based assets. Two destroyers of the class have been commissioned into the PLAN, with another seven under construction and one more planned.
However, just as China has increased the size of the PLAN, the Japanese government of then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has approved plans to build two new Aegis air warfare destroyers, bringing the pacifist country’s overall number of Aegis ships to eight.
It is possible that any future showdown between the two Asian nations could occur in the waters of the Tsushima Strait, but it should be remembered that in 1905 during the Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War the Russian fleet was virtually destroyed. Beijing would be wise not to make any rash actions or it could face a similar fate.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.