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China conducts navy drills to ‘signal readiness to handle confrontation with US and Taiwan’

China is conducting a series of military drills in four sea regions at roughly the same time, an unusual move that could be sending political signals, reports say.

Chinese maritime authorities announced the navy exercises in four locations, including the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea, in multiple notices issued between Friday and Sunday.

The naval operations were interpreted by experts as China showing ‘its readiness to handle confrontation with the US and self-ruled Taiwan’.

It comes after Taiwan has complained that China has stepped up threatening military activities in recent months near the island which Beijing considers its own.

On Friday, China’s Maritime Safety Administration revealed military exercises would run from Monday through Saturday in the disputed South China Sea.

It warned outside vessels to steer 5 nautical miles clear of the drill area but otherwise gave no details.

Another part of the South China Sea off Guangdong province had also been cordoned off to marine traffic while exercises took place. 

Meanwhile, an area of the Yellow Sea between Qingdao and Lianyungang in east China has been restricted from Saturday until Wednesday during live-fire naval exercises, a notice said.

Another area off Tangshan in the Bohai Gulf of China’s eastern coast has been cordoned off since Monday and will remain so until September 30 for live-fire military drills, according to another announcement.

In the East China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy had recently conducted air exercises to practise all-weather combat, according to its account on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo.

China announced late last month that it had held drills in the South China Sea involving long-range bombers and other aircraft.

Experts claimed that the almost-simultaneously drills were designed to signal China’s capability to mobilise forces in multiple locations and handle confrontations with the US and self-ruled Taiwan, according to South China Morning Post.

Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said China’s four military exercises sent out both political and operational signals.

He told South China Morning Post: ‘The first relates to demonstrating resolve in keeping up with peacetime combat preparations in the eyes of both domestic public and external audiences. 

‘The move would be primarily directed at the recent spate of US and allied military activities in those areas,’ Koh added.

‘Operationally, it’s to showcase the PLA’s ability to carry out major mobilisation of forces for training across multiple sea areas – which also highlights that the PLA isn’t affected in any way by the pandemic.’

In late July, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has warned China is stepping up military preparedness to overtake the self-ruled island. 

‘Looking on the long-term trend, China appears to be gradually stepping up its military preparedness, especially in the air or on the waters near Taiwan,’ Wu told reporters.

‘What China is doing now is continuing to ramp up preparedness to solve the Taiwan issue,’ he said. ‘The threat is on the rise.’

The US Navy says the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and its strike group entered the South China Sea earlier this month and have been carrying out air operations.

China routinely objects to US naval activity in the sea, especially when more than one strike group is present, as happened earlier this year, and when they involve operations with navies from other countries.

The strike group includes the carrier, its air wing, the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam, and the destroyers USS Mustin and USS Rafael Peralta.

The force ‘conducted flight operations with fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and high-end maritime stability operations and exercises,’ its commander said in a news release.

‘Operations in the South China Sea continue to demonstrate enduring U.S. commitment to allies and partners, and a cooperative approach to regional stability and freedom of the seas,’ the release said.

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