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China launches naval fleet to tour 20 nations, conduct training exercises

By Elizabeth Shim
China launches naval fleet to tour 20 nations, conduct training exercises
China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy marked its 68th anniversary on Sunday. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

April 24 (UPI) -- The Chinese navy has launched a fleet to tour more than 20 countries in the next six months, China News Service reported.

One of the People's Liberation Army Navy's new generation of guided missile destroyers, the Changchun, the frigate ship Xingzhou and a supply ship departed from Shanghai as China marked the 68th anniversary of the navy, the report stated Sunday.

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For the next 180 days, the group will travel to more than 20 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania.

The naval ships are expected to conduct exercises that include escorting other ships, training and patrolling.

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The report did not clarify which navies would jointly train with the Chinese fleet, but pointed out it is the longest tour of any Chinese fleet in history.

Li Jie, a Chinese military expert, said the deployment of the fleet is aligned with Chinese President Xi Jinping's "Belt and Road" initiative: an international trade and infrastructure project that will connect China's coastal regions to Africa, Asia and the Middle East through a maritime route.

China's second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, also known as the Type 001A, was ready for launch, but experts said tidal conditions were "not conducive" for a launch to commemorate the navy's birthday, the South China Morning Post reported.

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The new carrier is bigger than the Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier. The latter was refurbished from the half-finished Soviet carrier Varyag, which Beijing acquired from a Ukrainian shipyard in 1998, according to the Post.

China recently restructured the military into 84 corps-level units, which are under the command of the 15 main departments of the PLA.

Xi has been cracking down on corruption in the military, a policy that has led to the ouster of top military officers.

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