On 16 April 2012, Zheng He left Dalian on the first single-ship global circumnavigation by a Chinese training vessel. This latest “first” for China’s Navy is part of a larger pattern in which it has projected power increasingly beyond the “Near Seas” (Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea) in the form of well-publicized peacetime missions that do not themselves demonstrate high-intensity military capabilities. Other examples include the deployment of:
“Naval Training Ship Going Round the Globe,” China Daily, 17 April 2012.
A training vessel of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army navy embarked on a round-the-world voyage on Monday from Dalian, Northeast China’s Liaoning province. This is the first single-ship circumnavigation conducted by a Chinese training vessel. According to the commander, Liao Shining, deputy chief of staff of the PLA navy, the vessel Zhenghe has 308 military personnel aboard, including 110 cadets from Dalian Naval Academy. Over the next five months, they will journey more than 30,000 nautical miles (55,560 km) and visit 11 countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Italy, Spain and Canada. Military cadets from 13 other countries will be invited aboard the vessel for part of the voyage to live and train with their Chinese counterparts, Liao said. Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA navy, encouraged the officers, cadets, and sailors to carry out their “harmonious mission.” “You are entrusted with the mission of promoting friendship between China and other countries and their navies,” Wu said to the crew before the vessel set sail. Wu said this is an innovative mission to improve the training of naval cadets. The vessel, named after the great Chinese navigator Zheng He (1371-1433), is the PLA navy’s first domestically designed and built oceangoing training ship. Since it was commissioned in 1987, the Zhenghe has visited more than 30 countries, and sailed 280,000 nautical miles. This is the PLA navy’s second round-the-world voyage. The first was undertaken by the guided missile destroyer Qingdao and supply ship Taicang in 2002. Those vessels visited 10 countries in 132 days.
For details on related PLAN firsts, see:
“Chinese Navy Hospital Ship Visits Cuba, Caribbean,” China Analysis from Original Sources, 22 October 2011.
“PLAN Hospital Ship ‘Peace Ark’ (‘和平方舟’号医院船) Embarks on 3-Month Navy Medical Service Mission in Caribbean,” China Analysis from Original Sources, 16 September 2011.
Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Missile Frigate Xuzhou Transits Suez Canal, to Arrive off Libya ~Wednesday 2 March: China’s first operational deployment to Mediterranean addresses Libya’s evolving security situation,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 26 (27 February 2011).
Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “China Dispatches Warship to Protect Libya Evacuation Mission: Marks the PRC’s first use of frontline military assets to protect an evacuation mission,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 25 (24 February 2011).
Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese Sea Power in Action: the Counter-Piracy Mission in the Gulf of Aden and Beyond,” in Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Andrew Scobell, eds., The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College and National Bureau of Asian Research, July 2010), pp. 295-376.