China this week staged a large naval and air exercise on its southeast coast, as South Korea and the United States conducted their own naval drill opposed by Beijing, state media said Friday.
News of Monday’s live-fire exercises in the South China Sea came as a defence ministry spokesman reiterated that China’s territorial claims in the contentious waters were “indisputable” and should not be “internationalised”.
Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the resolution of territorial disputes was “pivotal” for regional stability and that Washington had a “national interest” in seeing international law respected in the area.
During the South China Sea exercise, a large group of submarines and warships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy fired guided missiles and tested anti-missile air defence systems, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Navy aircraft also conducted “air control operations”, Xinhua said.
Artillery forces also staged an exercise on China’s east coast this week, earlier reports said.
It was not immediately clear if the two Chinese exercises were pre-planned or a response to the four-day joint naval and air drill by the United States and South Korea, which ended Wednesday.
The US-South Korean exercise was conducted as a warning to North Korea — China’s ally — following the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed by Seoul and its allies on a North Korean submarine.
China is North Korea’s closest ally and trade partner and has refused to join in international condemnation of Pyongyang for the incident.
Beijing had expressed concern about the July 25-28 drill, which was initially supposed to be held in the Yellow Sea separating China and the Korean peninsula but was later relocated to the Sea of Japan after Beijing’s protests.
China has warned against further actions that it says could raise tensions in the region.
Last week, Clinton told an Asia-Pacific security forum in Vietnam that the United States had an interest in “freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea”.
“We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant,” she said.
Beijing’s territorial claims over potentially resource-rich archipelagos in the South China Sea conflict with those of some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
US commanders have made it clear they are watching China’s military build-up, particularly its naval reach into the South China Sea.
On Friday, defence ministry spokesman Geng Yangsheng again hit out at Clinton’s comments, saying any territorial disputes would be resolved with the relevant countries alone, through dialogue and negotiations.
Geng, quoted by Xinhua news agency, added that Beijing would respect the freedom of ships and aircraft from “relevant countries” crossing the South China Sea in accordance with international laws.