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Thursday, June 13, 2024

China, US hold rival drills in disputed SCS waters

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China showcased on Thursday fighter jets firing missiles in the South China Sea, as it held rival military exercises with the United States in the hotly contested waters.

The drills follow tense standoffs between Beijing and Manila in disputed reefs that saw vessels from the two countries collide and Chinese ships blast water cannons at Philippine boats.

China last month voiced growing frustration and anger at the Philippines’ unexpectedly bold tactics, warning its neighbour to exercise “caution.”

Footage shared by state broadcaster CCTV and the Chinese military on Thursday showed what they called “live fire drills” taking place over the sea.

One video, shared by the Chinese military’s Southern Theater Command, showed jets taking off and firing missiles that then struck targets.

Neither state media nor the military said when the footage was taken, only that it took place recently.

But its release came a day after China announced a deployment of its navy and air force in the South China Sea on Wednesday and Thursday.

The drills coincided with an two-day exercise by the US and the Philippines in the disputed waters, involving an aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson.

The US said the drills would “enhance our ability to coordinate on maritime domain awareness and other shared security interests.”

Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Chief Xerxes Trinidad said the drills took place between the Recto Bank and Scarborough Shoal, where clashes took place last month.

Beijing condemned them as “provocative military activities” aimed at “flaunting their military might.”

Trinidad also called on China to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty, rule of law and the right to conduct activities in the West Philippine Sea after Beijing’s warships shadowed participating vessels in the joint PH-US drills.

”We can confirm the presence of two PLA-N (People’s Liberation Army-Navy) vessels from a distance shadowing the participants of the maritime cooperative activity. We have identified a PLA-N Destroyer with BN174 and a PLA-N Frigate with BN570,” Trinidad said. AFP, Vince Lopez’

‘The maritime cooperative activity is well within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). We are hoping that China and other foreign countries will respect our sovereignty and right to conduct the activity that is following international law,” he added.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, for his part, said the joint exercises with the US were “detrimental to management and control of the maritime situation and related disputes.”

“We urge relevant countries to stop their irresponsible actions and earnestly respect the efforts of countries in the region to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.

Beijing, he pledged, would “continue to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.

It deploys boats to patrol the busy waterway and has built artificial islands that it has militarised to reinforce its claims.

And while China typically uses its coast guard to enforce its claims in the area, military exercises are not uncommon, with Beijing’s navy conducting “routine” drills in late November.

One expert told AFP that Beijing was seeking to turn the South China Sea “into a Chinese-controlled waterway and a strategic chokepoint for other countries.”

“The South China Sea is becoming… a key defensive zone for China,” said Michael Raska, assistant professor and military expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

“While China routinely dispatches warships to shadow US aircraft carriers in the South China Sea and to monitor multilateral military activities in the region, the public announcement of such an exercise is very rare,” Duan Dang, a Vietnam-based maritime analyst focusing on the South China Sea, told AFP.

China has insisted the Philippines was to blame for the spike in tensions, with the foreign ministry saying Manila had “reneged on its words, changed its policy, infringed on China’s sovereignty and made provocations again and again and triggered complex situations.”

“China will take resolute measures against any violation of our sovereignty and provocation, and firmly safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in December. AFP

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