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Meanwhile India and Japan, both of whom have their own ongoing territorial disputes with Beijing, have staged joint military exercises in the Malacca Strait which runs between Indonesia and Malaysia. A statement issued by China’s military confirmed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 73rd Group Army had conducted a live-fire exercise involving aircraft and heavy artillery off of the country’s southeast coast.
China, which claims sovereignty over large areas of the South China Sea, has fortified numerous uninhabited islands there.
Zhou Zhirong, a flight commander of the army aviation brigade involved in the training, said: “In the exercise, we conducted the training through day and night, set multiple kinds of targets on land, at sea and in the air, and stressed on the tactical coordination in continuous strikes by multiple projectiles.
“The gunship pilots have greatly improved their combat effectiveness in such an actual combat environment.”
More manoeuvres are scheduled until Saturday, the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration’s Hainan Bureau said as it urged sailors to steer clear of the waters around the disputed Paracel Islands, an archipelago known as Xisha to China and as Hoang Sa to Vietnam.
Separately, Chinese ships have been accused of encroaching on other uninhabited islands in the neighbouring East China Sea, known to Japan as Senkaku, to China as Diaoyu, to Taiwan as Diaoyutai and in the West as the Pinnacle Islands.
All are currently under Japanese control – but since April 14, the Japan Coast Guard has reported numerous daily incursions by Chinese ships.
India is also in the midst of its own territorial dispute with China in relation to the disputed border region of Ladakh, which earlier this month saw brutal clashes resulting in the deaths of at least 23 Indian soldiers.
In a clear indication of the seriousness with which both Tokyo and New Delhi regard the situation, both nations sent vessels to take part in the exercises in what is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
Japan Maritime Self Defense Force training squadron ships JS Kashima and JS Shimayuki took part alongside the Indian Navy’s INS Rana and INS Kulish.
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Both nations hope to counter Chinese ambitions by backing the United States’ strategy of seeking a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
The US military has deployed three aircraft carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean and conducts regular “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea, much to Beijing’s anger.
A statement issued by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) following a virtual summit stressed the importance of the sea being subject to international law, a point backed yesterday by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who tweeted: “China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS as its maritime empire.
“We will have more to say on this topic soon.”
However, speaking in advance of tomorrow’s China-ASEAN Senior Officials’ Consultation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stressed the importance of cooperation among countries in the region.
He said: “China looks forward to in-depth exchange with other participants during this consultation to discuss how to coordinate anti-virus cooperation and socio-economic development as prevention and control efforts remain part of our daily routine.
“We also hope to work for new progress in China-ASEAN cooperation and contribute more to stability and development in the region.”
Speaking last month, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a member of Parliament’s China Research Group, told Express.co.uk China’s increasing belligerence was reflected in its rapidly growing armed forces.
He said: “China’s navy is expanding the size of the Royal Navy every year, in the last 10 years, the growth of their military capabilities has been absolutely phenomenal – to the point now that the United States would struggle to win a straight-on conflict.
“That’s what China wants, it wants to get so large that people think twice about attacking, therefore it can just take over the islands in the South China Sea, nobody can contest that.”
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