A Chinese People’s Liberation Army destroyer and a frigate have been cruising waters close to Taiwan doing high-seas combat drills since last week in a move seen as stepped-up saber-rattling by Beijing.

Taiwan newspapers reported that a group of navy warships including Huanggang, a Type 054A multi-role frigate, and Jinan, a Type 052C destroyer, had sailed down the Taiwan Strait all the way to the Bashi Channel. The Huanggang can carry HQ-16 medium-range air defense missiles and various anti-submarine weapons, while the Jinan features sophisticated radar to guide its HHQ-9 long-range air defense missiles.

The PLA Daily also carried a short report on its website on Monday, saying the sight of a “Chinese Aegis” class destroyer appearing near Taiwan was a message to the island.

The drills tested the military, the abilities of the ships, aviation and coastal defense troops through combat training in multiple areas on the ocean and examined tactics and training procedures by teaming up with other navy ships, aviation forces and coastal defense forces, it said.

The fleet entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and stayed for more than one week, the second island encirclement exercise within a month, Taiwan-based media United Daily News reported last week.

It was not clear if the drill had ended, but there were reports in Taiwan papers on Wednesday evening citing Taiwanese fishermen saying that some Chinese warships were still off the island’s northeastern coast and they showed “no sign of leaving.”

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A file photo of the Yiyang and its shipborne helicopter. Photo: PLA Daily

The Taipei-based Eastern News Television also reported on Wednesday that the Yiyang, another Type 054A frigate in the Chinese Navy’s fleet, sailed solo up Taiwan’s Pacific coast to the Miyako Strait before heading back into Chinese waters last weekend. The broadcaster’s military commentators said they suspected a submarine was with the Yiyang.

Taiwan’s defense ministry, however, played down the moves, stressing the vessels would be monitored throughout and there was no cause for alarm. Beijing has reportedly conveyed another message to Washington that Taiwan, not trade or North Korea, was the underlying, most foundational issue for two-way ties, after US officials said early this month they were considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait.

The last time a US aircraft carrier transited the shallow waterway was in 2007.