China has begun five military exercises simultaneously along different parts of its coast, the second time in two months it will have such concurrent drills against a backdrop of rising regional tension, a Reuters news agency report on Monday said two of the exercises are being held near the Paracel Islands in the disputed South China Sea, one in the East China Sea, and one further north in the Bohai Sea, the Maritime Safety Administration said in notices on its website.
In the southern part of the Yellow Sea, drills including live-fire exercises will be held from Monday to Wednesday, it said in another notice, adding that all ships are prohibited from entering the area. In a bid to train a combat-ready military, China holds such drills periodically, though multiple exercises happening at the same time are rare, the four separate exercises were announced last month, a rare arrangement, according to Chinese military experts.
In response, the United States sent spy planes into a no-fly zone over the Chinese live-fire military drills as China lodged “stern representations” with Washington. China and the US have recently been at loggerheads over a range of issues from Taiwan and the coronavirus pandemic to trade and human rights. On Sunday, a US state department statement said China has “pursued a reckless and provocative militarisation” of disputed outposts in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands, adding that China’s governing Communist Party “does not honour its words or commitments”.
In response, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday said US military actions have made it “the biggest threat to the peace and stability of the South China Sea”. China has also held frequent military activities near Taiwan, declaring that the drills were directed at the island Beijing considers part of its territory. On Friday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said China threatened to or entered its airspace 46 times in the past nine days.
Earlier this month, an Indonesian patrol ship confronted a Chinese coastguard vessel that spent almost three days in waters Indonesia claims as an exclusive economic zone and are near the southernmost part of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have also engaged in a pushback against Chinese claims and actions in the area, while progress in talks between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China over the South China Sea appear to be at a standstill.