Following North Korea’s July 28 ballistic missile launch, thought by many to have tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, Beijing’s four-day drill is widely seen as a show of strength to Washington, Pyongyang and the Asia Pacific region in general.
The live-fire drill will take place in a sectioned-off area roughly the size of the US state of West Virginia, off the coast of Qingdao and east of the city of Lianyungang.
Notices from the Shandong Maritime Safety Administration and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) were scant on details, other than saying the exercise will be conducted Saturday through Tuesday, following a three-day Yellow Sea exercise held from July 27 to July 29.
The first drill was held as part of a celebration for PLAN’s 90th anniversary on August 1, and included a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Zhurihe in Inner Mongolia to watch war games at Asia’s largest military base.
The drills come as frustration between the US and China grows, with Washington expressing irritation at China’s lack of progress in restraining Pyongyang and China in turn vexed at the continuing American pressure, especially after the North’s most recent launch.
After US President Donald Trump said he was “very disappointed” in China’s efforts regarding North Korea following the July 28 test, China shot back, saying that the North Korean issue isn’t theirs to solve because they didn’t start it, and that ultimately a solution could only really come from the North and the US.
Pyongyang has recently warned Washington about trying to stop its defense activity, with an article in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper saying, "Every minute and every second, the new reality that [the] US mainland is on the knife's edge of life and death is forcing [the] US administration to wave a white flag and fundamentally change her North Korea policy."
Chinese defence expert Malcolm Davis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute told the South China Morning Post that the upcoming drill is "basically a warning to Pyongyang."
"The Chinese would really like to get the North Koreans to back down, but it largely depends on whether [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un is ready to do that," he said.
The drill also comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi prepares to meet with his US counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Manila Saturday at the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference.
Davis doesn’t believe this is an accident. "Nothing is ever coincidental in international relations – the timing does reinforce the message … But China can only do so much, and I think that the main Chinese focus there will be on avoiding a trade war with the Americans."
Maritime Security expert Collin Koh from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University told the SCMP the drill could also be a "call for peace,” signalling to Washington and other nations that they should "not even entertain the thought of military action against North Korea."
He said, "This is a very normal part of diplomacy – there are talks and negotiations, but there is always in the background some sort of drum-beating."
"The danger here is, we’ll never know… These countries are all quite heavily armed and are operating in quite a constricted space," he cautioned.