Following Japan's scrambling of fighter jets for the 3rd day in a row, China has revealed that its first fleet of nuclear submarines has started sea patrols, in the latest sign of its military’s growing confidence which has raised concerns in the region. As The FT reports, Xinhua, China's official news agency, released photographs of what appeared to be Xia-class vessels – China’s first generation of nuclear-armed submarines, which are several decades old – saying they were being “declassified” for the first time, adding with supremely colorful language that, the subs would "gallop to the depths of the ocean, serving as mysterious forces igniting the sound of thunder in the deep sea", and be an "assassin’s mace that would make adversaries tremble".
While the submarines displayed on Sunday were the older generation of nuclear vessels that are part of China’s northern fleet – and not the more advanced Jin-class based at the southern Chinese island of Hainan – the display in the domestic media nonetheless reflects the Chinese military’s growing confidence.
“It is still the first time that the Xia class has been discussed in such detail in China’s state-run media,” said Taylor Fravel, an expert on Chinese security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. “As China’s military modernisation continues to advance, the PLA has become more willing to discuss its capabilities.”
In recent years, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has become increasingly active in the Pacific, particularly in staking Chinese claims to disputed maritime territory in the South China Sea.
Chinese ships and aircraft have also become more aggressive in challenging Japanese control of the Senkaku Islands – which China calls the Diaoyu – in the East China Sea. Japan has administered the uninhabited group for decades, but China and Taiwan both claim sovereignty.