A Type 053 guided-missile frigate missile was deployed to the waters of Johnson South Reef last month to defend China's land reclamation project in the area from Vietnamese warships according to our sister newspaper Want Daily, citing a photo recently released on a Chinese internet forum.
The Forum of South China Sea Studies, an online message board based in mainland China released a photo on Dec. 11 which shows the standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese warships near the Johnson South Reef. Apparently, the Chinese warship in the picture is the Cangzhou, a Type 053 guided missile frigate. It was sent to the disputed waters to confront the Dinh Tien Hoang, a Vietnamese Gepard-class stealth frigate in the waters of Johnson South Reef.
The Dinh Tien Hoang and its sister ship, the Ly Thai To had just completed their visit to Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. Under the leadership of Nguyen Van Kiem, the deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese navy, both Gepard-class stealth frigates arrived at the Southwest Cay of the Spratly islands currently under Vietnamese control to entertain the troops on the islet. Officials from the Vietnamese government said that the visit was not aimed to provoke China.
However, the picture released by the Forum of South China Sea Studies suggests that the Dinh Tien Hoang was sent to the waters of Johnson South Reef to monitor the Chinese land reclamation program in the area. The Cangzhou was apparently sent to Johnson South Reef to defend its workers there according to Want Daily. Once China constructs a 2,000-kilometer runway on the Johnson South Reef, its fighters such as the Su-30, the J-10 and the J-11 can attack all targets in the region of the Strait of Malacca.
When China completes its land reclamation programs on Gaven Reef, Johnson South Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Hughes Reef, a new forward operation base will allow the People's Liberation Army to project its power into the region. This new base is 830 km from Ho Chi Minh City, 890 km from Manila, 490 km from Western Malaysia, 1,500 km from Kuala Lumpur and 1,500 km from the Strait of Malacca.