China’s Shandong aircraft carrier group recently conducted annual exercises in the South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army said on Sunday, after Beijing criticized the US for sending Navy ships into the strategic area.
Navy spokesperson Gao Xiucheng said in a statement the exercises were “completely legitimate” and part of safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests, as well as maintaining regional peace and stability.
“We hope the outside world will view it in an objective and rational way. In the future, the Chinese navy will continue to hold similar exercises as planned,” said Gao.
The Chinese defence ministry last week urged the United States to restrain its front-line forces in the air and seas near China. US reconnaissance aircraft and warships have become more active around China since President Joe Biden took office, it said.
The South China Sea is particularly contentious because China’s smaller neighbours also have competing claims to one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety. China has constructed several man-made islands in the disputed waters in what the US says is a move to militarise the area.
China has repeatedly complained about American Navy ships getting close to islands it occupies in the South China Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan all also have competing claims.
US carrier groups have sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters several times this year, drawing denunciation from China.
The Shandong is the second Chinese aircraft carrier to enter service after the Liaoning, which was originally purchased as a hulk from Ukraine and entirely refurbished.
The Shandong entered service in 2019 and is the newer of China’s two carriers.
China’s navy said last month similar drills will come more regularly amid escalating tensions with the island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its sovereign territory.