China Warship Docks in the Spratly Islands

China is continuing to assert its dominant position in the South China Sea. Today the Chinese military announced that the Chinese naval ship Kunlun Shan had docked on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongsha Island) for Labor Day celebrations.

According to press announcements, the purpose of the mission was to transport a troupe of 50 entertainers to the islands to cheer up the troops and workers stationed on the isolated archipelago, but analysts will read a lot more into the visit.

The visit comes just a few days after China denied aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis entry into Hong Kong. Last month the USS John C. Stennis carried U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on a voyage in the South China Sea.

The choice of ship used to carry the entertainers to the island was a Yuzhao class 071 amphibious transport dock. The Type 071 is capable of carrying a marine battalion, including 500-800 troops, and 15-20 amphibious armoured vehicles. Christian Bedford, author of Chinese Naval Power in the 21st Century said in 2011 that Type 071 would be extremely useful to Beijing in any future action against islands in the South China Sea.”

The Tonnerre of the French Navy
Tonnerre (L9014; English meaning ‘Thunder’) is an amphibious assault helicopter carrier of the Marine Nationale. The Mistral-class amphibious assault ship is on a 5 day visit to Vietnam.

Coincidently, the French Navy’s amphibious assualt vessel Tonnerre berthed in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh International Port yesterday May 3. Cam Rahn is a new international port facility capable of receiving foreign warships in Cam Ranh Bay, a deep-water harbor in central Vietnam facing the South China Sea. The 21,500-tonne vessel is one of the French Navy’s biggest. It can carry 16 assault helicopters along with hovercraft and other amphibious assault vehicles.

The islands are claimed by five different countries: China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia and are widely regarded as a potential flash-point for military conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.

map of Cam Ranh Bay and the Spratly Islands
A map showing the proximity of Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam to the Spratly Island Group where China has set up a forward operating base to project naval power towards the Strait of Malacca. Picture: Submarine Matters.
The Chinese Navy ship Kunlun Shan docked in the Spratly Group
The Kunlun Shan, a Type 071 Yuzhao class Amphibious Transport Dock is seen docked on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. Photo: Phoenix News
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