The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently conducted a cross sea troop transport exercise using a large ferry ship, which could play a vital role in large-scale amphibious landing missions, experts said on Sunday.

Such drills were linked by foreign media to the Taiwan question.

During the integrated military-civilian long-range power projection exercise, a brigade affiliated with the PLA Navy used a roll-on/roll-off, or ro-ro, passenger ship with a displacement of tens of thousands of tons to transport troops in the Bohai Sea, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Sunday.

The brigade divided its troops into multiple combat groups based on personnel and equipment, and used the ship to transport the entire unit in a single voyage, the report said.

According to the CCTV report, multiple types of military vehicles, including off-road tactical vehicles, wheeled infantry fighting vehicles, trucks and jeeps together with a large number of troops, took the Chang Shan Dao ro-ro passenger ship during the drills.

Having doors and ramps at both the bow and stern that enable vehicles to enter and exit without turning around, the Chang Shan Dao has a length of 167.5 meters, a width of 25.2 meters and a displacement of 23,000 tons, according to the website of the COSCO Shipping Ferry Co Ltd, the operator of the ship.

The exercise tested the PLA Navy troops’ capabilities to carry out maritime transport under special conditions, CCTV said.

It is common for the PLA to practice troop transport with large ferry ships. Official media reports have been covering such exercises since 2021.

Such an approach is also common in amphibious landing tasks around the world, a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity, told the Global Times on Sunday.

With a limited number of dedicated amphibious landing ships, ferries could join maritime transport missions in large numbers once sea lanes and ports are secured, the expert said.

Foreign media outlets, including the Associated Press and Defense News, said that the ferries could be used in a potential PLA reunification-by-force operation on the island of Taiwan.

With the island of Taiwan reportedly preparing to hold the five-day Han Kuang live-fire military exercises, which practice resisting reunification by force, starting on Monday, the PLA recently ramped up its regular exercises and patrols around the island, sending increased numbers of aircraft and vessels, according to the defense authority on the island.

The PLA’s drills should be viewed by “Taiwan independence” secessionists and external interference forces as a strong warning, analysts said.