China on Tuesday deployed warships including amphibious ones for a naval drill in the disputed waters of the South China Sea (SCS) in the backdrop of the US sending an aircraft carrier group in the maritime zone for a “freedom of the seas” operation.
Three of China’s front-line docking ships, comprising the Wuzhishan, Changbaishan and Kunlunshan of the southern theatre navy, started an exercise focusing on actual combat training and beach landing exercises in the SCS, a state media report said.
More warships from the Chinese navy are set to join the drill, which is expected to formally begin on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, a notice issued by China’s Maritime Safety Administration prohibited entry into a portion of waters in the Gulf of Tonkin to the west of the Leizhou peninsula in southwestern China from January 27-30.
The American aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt entered the SCS on Saturday to promote “freedom of the seas”, the US military said, barely days after Joe Biden began his term as president.
China claims nearly the entire SCS, but that claim is disputed by several maritime neighbours including Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia besides Vietnam and Taiwan, which China says is a breakaway region.
“The United States frequently sends aircraft and vessels into the South China Sea to flex its muscles,” foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, told reporters on Monday when asked about the presence of US ships in the SCS region.
“This is not conducive to peace and stability in the region,” Zhao added.
On Tuesday, Zhao reiterated that Beijing hopes Washington will change its policies towards China under the Biden administration.
Zhao said in the past few years, the Trump administration had made directional errors, treating China as a strategic competitor or even a threat, and accordingly adopted a series of wrong actions that interfere with China’s internal affairs and harm China’s interests.
“This has led to an unusually severe situation in Sino-US relations that has never been seen since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. This is not in the fundamental interests of the two peoples,” Zhao said.
On December 23, the US Navy said China had falsely claimed that it expelled an American warship from the SCS a day before, adding that Beijing was trying to assert its illegitimate claims in the maritime region.
Beijing had said the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) southern theatre command deployed ships and aircraft to warn US destroyer USS John S. McCain as it sailed through disputed waters of the SCS.
“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false. USS John S. McCain was not ‘expelled’ from any nation’s territory,” Joe Keiley, US Navy’s 7th Fleet spokesperson, told HT in a statement.
The US Navy spokesperson said that its ship conducted its operation and left “on our timeline” and were “not expelled”.