Chinese naval presence off Alaskan coast appears to be a first
Five Chinese navy ships are currently operating in the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska, the first time the U.S. military has seen such activity in the area, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
The officials said they have been aware in recent days that three Chinese combat ships, a replenishment vessel and an amphibious ship were in the vicinity after observing them moving toward the Aleutian Islands, which are split between U.S. and Russian control.
They said the Chinese ships were still in the area, but declined to specify when the vessels were first spotted or how far they were from the coast of Alaska, where President Barack Obama is winding up a three-day visit.
“This would be a first in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands,” one defense official said of the Chinese ships. “I don’t think we’d characterize anything they’re doing as threatening.” The Pentagon official confirmed that the five ships were operating in international waters.
Pentagon officials also said there was no information suggesting the Chinese ships had gone through the Bering Strait, a narrow waterway north of the sea that abuts Alaska.
The presence of the Chinese ships so close to U.S. shores is the latest demonstration of how China’s military is rapidly expanding its operations far from its own coast to protect the nation’s growing global interests.
The Chinese naval activity comes as Mr. Obama visits Alaska and the Arctic region to highlight climate change. The naval operation also comes just before Chinese President Xi Jinping presides over a World War II Victory Day parade on Thursday that the U.S. and its allies fear is being used to showcase China’s new military strength and ambition.
China has shown growing interest in using the so-called Northern Sea Route to transport goods between Asia and the West via the Arctic in recent years as melting polar ice has eased access for shipping. The route can take several days less than the journey via the Suez Canal.
Beijing also has shown growing interest in exploiting energy resources in the Arctic region and in 2013 became a permanent observer to the Arctic Council, whose members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S.
A search of Chinese state media and military statements online revealed no record of any previous naval deployment to the Bering Sea.
U.S. officials said an uninvited Chinese spy ship observed the Rimpac drills from international waters just off Hawaii. China’s defense ministry said at the time its ship operations complied with international law.
Full article: Five Chinese Navy Ships Are Operating in Bering Sea Off Alaska Coast (The Wall Street Journal)