BEIJING (AP) — China’s increasingly powerful navy paid a symbolic visit to the country’s southernmost territorial claim deep in the South China Sea this week as part of military drills in the disputed Spratly Islands involving amphibious landings and aircraft.
The four-ship task force is headed next to the Pacific Ocean for deep-sea exercises via the Bashi Channel separating Taiwan and the Philippines, Xinhua said.
The maneuvers were an important, symbolic declaration of Chinese sovereignty intended to show that Beijing will not waver over its territorial claims despite pushback in the region, said Peking University international relations expert Zhu Feng. Militarily, it means little since the navy has visited a number of times before and has no intention of basing troops near the remote shoal, he said.
“These recent naval operations can be seen as a strong indication of Chinese resolve, but they’re also a continuation of the existing Chinese stance,” Zhu said.
The Spratlys and other South China Sea island groups are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. China and Vietnam have also begun experimental drilling in the area in hopes of tapping a suspected wealth of oil and gas, further exacerbating frictions that date back decades and have from time to time flared into military action.
Along with maintaining garrisons on territory it claims, China has stepped up patrols by both its navy and ships from civilian maritime agencies that were recently consolidated into a single department along the lines of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The naval task force taking part in the latest drills consists of the Jinggangshan, the destroyer Lanzhou, and the missile frigates Yulin and Hengshui, among China’s most modern and capable naval ship, according to an online report by the official People’s Daily newspaper.
Full article: China Holds Landing Exercises in Disputed Seas (AP)