Chinese naval forces are gearing up to conduct military drills near disputed islands in the South China Sea, in what appears to a reaction to a recent US patrol in the area.
China’s Maritime Safety Administration made the announcement on its website, declaring that the maneuvers are planned for Thursday, without providing any further details.
The move was prompted less than a week after a US guided-missile destroyer sailed through the contested waters, allegedly conducting a “navigation freedom operation” close to the Paracel Islands, over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors.
The Friday operation swiftly elicited a Chinese Defense Ministry statement, saying, the US warship patrol near the islands was “illegal” and “provocative,” adding that the patrol had seriously damaged mutual trust between the two countries.
“This is serious illegal behavior, and is intentionally provocative behavior. China’s Defense Ministry is resolutely opposed to this and has lodged serious representations with the US side,” the statement said.
The US has time and again risked heightening tensions with China through military presence in the South China Sea, questioning Beijing’s insistence on sovereignty over the disputed waters.
China has, in response, accused Washington of meddling in regional issues and deliberately escalating the situation in the region.
Unannounced drills with Saudi Arabia
In a separate development, a Chinese military publication has said a small number of special forces from China and Saudi Arabia have conducted joint “anti-terrorism” drills, a first of their kind between the two countries.
China’s People’s Liberation Army Daily said on Thursday that 25 people from either side had taken part in the two-week drills from October 10, near the Chinese southwestern city of Chongqing. The forces reportedly focused on anti-terrorism combat skills and tactics, Reuters reported Thursday.
It was not clear why the holding of the drills had not been announced publicly until after their purported completion.
“This joint anti-terrorism training is directed at raising the two militaries’ ability to combat terrorism and non-traditional security threats,” the paper said.
Earlier this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia, vowing to expand security cooperation to oppose terrorism.
Chinese media also announced on Tuesday that more than 400 troops from China and Tajikistan had held joint anti-terrorism drills from October 20 to 24 along the remote mountainous Tajik border with Afghanistan.