China, Russia send naval flotilla through Miyako Strait near Okinawa
Stars and Stripes August 18, 2023
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japan’s navy stayed on alert after a flotilla of Russian and Chinese warships transited a key maritime thoroughfare in the southern island chain last week, according to Japan’s Joint Staff.
The six Chinese and five Russian vessels, including destroyers and frigates, on Thursday passed through the Miyako Strait, a 155-mile-wide waterway between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako in southwestern Japan, before continuing into the East China Sea, according to the Joint Staff that day.
Tokyo viewed the transit as a provocation, although the flotilla did not enter Japan’s 12-mile territorial limit, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported Friday.
The same 11 vessels were spotted near the Alaskan coast and the Aleutian Islands in southeast Alaska in early August, USNI News reported Thursday. While the ships never entered U.S. territorial waters, they were shadowed by four U.S. guided-missile destroyers and a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.
The Pentagon’s 2022 National Defense Strategy identified China, an aggressive presence in the East and South China Seas, as a global “pacing challenge.” The same document labels Russia an “acute threat” for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
The ships were first spotted westbound at 9 a.m. Tuesday approximately 175 miles northeast of Okinotori Island, according to the Joint Staff. Okinotori is about 660 miles southeast of Okinawa.
The Chinese ships were identified as two Luyang III-class destroyers, two Jiangkai II-class frigates, a Fuchi-class replenishment oiler and a Dongdiao-class reconnaissance ship; the Russian vessels included two Udaloy I-class destroyers, a Steregushchiy-class and a Steregushchiy II-class frigate and a Dubna-class fleet tanker.
The group the next day was westbound about 30 miles south of Okidaito Island, according to the statement.
Some of the vessels may have trained together in mid-July about 250 miles north of the Oki islands off the coast of Honshu, the largest of Japan’s four main islands, and transited the Soya Strait separating the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and Russian territory later that month.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force monitored the flotilla with destroyers JS Umigiri and JS Sawagiri, the mine sweeper JS Yakushima and P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft from Fleet Air Wing 5 in Naha, according to the Joint Staff.
Russia’s Defense Ministry announced the joint patrol in July, NHK said. Japan’s Defense Ministry continues to monitor the situation.
Stars and Stripes reporters Hana Kusumoto and Alex Wilson contributed to this report.