South China Sea drills underscore China’s sovereignty claims

Representational Image.

Beijing: China has launched three days of naval drills near its South China Sea island province of Hainan, underscoring its growing capabilities in defending its maritime interests.

Those exercises follow recent ones in the disputed waterway featuring China’s sole operating aircraft carrier that come amid deployments and drills by the rival US Navy.

China’s Maritime Safety Administration said the exercises began on Wednesday and would last through the end of Friday.

China is building new vessels at a rapid pace to equip its navy, coast guard and maritime law enforcement agencies, including its first entirely domestically-built aircraft carrier.

It claims virtually the entire resource-rich South China Sea, through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes annually, and has constructed airstrips and other installations on artificial islands to enlarge its military footprint.

Hainan is home to a major military presence, including naval air stations and the country’s largest submarine base.

This week it also hosted a global business forum that included a smattering of world leaders, among them Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose country is a US treaty ally and has overlapping claims with Beijing in the South China Sea.