Exclusive: China to Stage Rescue Operations Drill in South China Sea

October 14, 2020 Updated: October 15, 2020

Internal government documents reveal that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will stage a rescue operations drill this month near the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea—which could escalate tensions in the disputed waters.

According to a notice issued by the Hainan Province Development and Reform Commission and obtained by The Epoch Times from a trusted source, the drill is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 20; if the first one fails, another drill is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 22.

Hainan is an island off the southern coast of the mainland.

The exercise will be conducted as follows: The Hainan branch of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Hospital will receive an order from the commander and quickly dispatch a 38-member medical team to the Sansha No. 2 vessel to carry out rescue operations.

Chinese missile frigate Yuncheng launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the waters near south China's Hainan Island and Paracel Islands on July 8, 2016. (Zha Chunming/Xinhua via AP)
Chinese missile frigate Yuncheng launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the waters near south China’s Hainan Island and Paracel Islands on July 8, 2016. (Zha Chunming/Xinhua via AP)

According to Chinese news reports, the Sansha No. 2 weighs 8,000 tons and is the second transportation supply vessel built at a shipyard in Sansha city. As a medical modification ship, it also serves as a military resupply vessel.

Seven warships, one helicopter, and units of the country’s maritime search-and-rescue agencies will also participate in the drill.

Epoch Times Photo
Internal document describing the drill. (Provided to The Epoch Times)

The Hainan Health Commission created presentation slides to guide the rescue operations.

The slides, also obtained by The Epoch Times, show that the drill will practice how to do remote medical treatment, transfer the sick and wounded, and psychological counseling.

The slides also included information on meteorological and hydrological conditions.

Epoch Times Photo
A presentation slide about the rescue operation drill. (Provided to The Epoch Times)

Background

In August 2020, plans were completed for a rescue operations drill featuring the Sansha No. 2, called the National (the Paracel Waters) Maritime Emergency Medical Rescue Drill. The plan was created by the emergency office of the Hainan Health Commission and the Hainan branch of the PLA General Hospital to “effectively test the emergency medical rescue capabilities in the direction of the South China Sea.”

In September, the Hainan Development and Reform Commission compiled a list of investment projects to include in the budget of the 14th Five-Year Plan to advance reform and free-trade port construction in the province, as required by its higher authority—the Central National Development and Reform Commission.

One of the proposed projects on the list is to build a National Maritime Emergency Medical Rescue Base and National Aviation Medical Rescue Base. The proposal is aimed at “building a land-based maritime treatment network, a rescue reserve force, an emergency rescue base support platform, and a treatment and transfer system for the wounded and the sick by sea, land, and air,” the document stated.

Other Hainan government documents stated that the two bases are meant to get ready for “maintaining sovereignty and battling emergencies in the South China Sea.”

China commentator Li Linyi noted that this signals that the CCP is preparing for the possibility of military conflicts in the South China Sea.

US Military Exercise

According to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the USS Ronald Reagan carried out a mass casualty drill in the South China Sea on Oct. 7.

Li said that the Oct. 7 exercise is the most effective countermeasure the United States has ever taken to counter the CCP’s military aggression in the South China Sea.

South China Sea Dispute

Islands, reefs, and rocks in the strategic waterway are claimed by a number of countries, including Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Beijing has used the “nine-dash line” to proclaim sovereignty over 90 percent of the South China Sea, despite a United Nations legal judgment in 2016 that refuted Beijing’s claims.

In recent years, Beijing has sought to bolster its claims by building military outposts on artificial islands and reefs in the region. It has also deployed coast guard ships and Chinese fishing boats to intimidate foreign vessels, block access to waterways, and seize shoals and reefs.

In the past few months, it has conducted more military exercises in the waterway, prompting condemnation from the United States.

Frank Fang contributed to this report.