Beijing: In the midst of growing unease over Chinese maritime activities in the South China Sea, China's largest naval training ship sailed for the Philippines on Friday, its final port of call on a regional "friendly" tour.
On Thursday, the enormous training ship Qijiguang, which is larger than a typical destroyer, departed Brunei for the Philippines as part of a roughly 40-day journey that had already stopped in Vietnam and Thailand before Brunei.
The Qijiguang and its crew of 476 navy officers and students would have travelled through the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand, and West Pacific by the time they reached their destination.
The ship, which bears the name of a Ming dynasty general who fought Japanese pirates, will undergo training in navigation, anti-piracy, and light-weapon shooting, according to Chinese state media, which described its passage in the area as "friendly."
Its impending arrival in the Philippines comes amid hostilities with its neighbours over the South China Sea, which Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines also claim in some areas but which China primarily controls.
The trip also follows the conclusion on Wednesday of the first-ever trilateral coast guard exercise involving the Philippines, Japan, and the United States.
This year, the Philippines and the US have strengthened their military ties, increasing drills and even granting the US access to local military bases. Manila's statement that access would be helpful in the event that Chinese forces attacked Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, infuriated China, leading to the decision.
Last month, the Philippines installed navigational buoys in the disputed Spratly islands of the South China Sea, further inflaming the situation and prompting China to follow suit.
The training ship docked in Vietnam from May 23 to 25, which coincided with a Chinese research ship's voyage in the country's exclusive economic zone from May 7 to June 6. A rare protest from Hanoi was sparked by the presence of the research ship.
In September, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has ten members, will conduct its first-ever multilateral military exercise in the South China Sea, according to Indonesia, the organization's chair.