HONG KONG • The Chinese navy has carried out its largest live-fire drills yet in the South China Sea, ahead of an international ruling on a dispute with the Philippines over the contested waters.
The navy last Friday carried out "combat exercises" with "live missiles" between the Paracel Islands and the southern Chinese island of Hainan, the PLA Daily, the military's official newspaper, said on its website.
Warships from the navy's north and east fleets joined the south fleet in the drills, it said. The article was reposted on the Defence Ministry website.
The exercises focused on "air-control operations, sea battles and anti-submarine warfare", said the PLA Daily.
U.S. NAVY MAY BE IMAGINED TARGET
The PLA has always said that its drills do not target a third party. But warships from the South Sea Fleet are playing key roles in the drills and commanders on site are all top leaders in the army, hinting that the United States Navy was the imagined target.
MR ANTONY WONG, a Macau-based military observer, who said the prominence of China's South Sea Fleet in the drills was noteworthy.
State broadcaster China Central Television aired images of fighter aircraft and ships firing missiles, helicopters taking off and submarines surfacing. One picture posted by PLA Daily showed a type- 054A destroyer launching an HQ-9 missile.
Earlier this year, many countries voiced alarm over news that Beijing deployed HQ-9 missiles to Woody Island, the largest of the Chinese-controlled Paracel chain.
The PLA Daily has insisted that the latest drills were "routine exercises" and unrelated to tomorrow's ruling.
But Macau-based military observer Antony Wong told the South China Morning Post that the prominence of China's South Sea Fleet was noteworthy.
"The PLA has always said that its drills do not target a third party. But warships from the South Sea Fleet are playing key roles in the drills and commanders on site are all top leaders in the army, hinting that the United States Navy was the imagined target," he said.
Chinese navy chief Wu Shengli joined leaders from the powerful Central Military Commission's Joint Staff Department, Training Management and the South Theatre Command for the military drills.
The drills, which began last Tuesday, are scheduled to end today, on the eve of the ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on a case brought by the Philippines disputing several of China's territory claims in the South China Sea.
The Navy Times reported last week that the US has beefed up its military presence in the waters further south, sending three US destroyers - the Spruance, the Stethem and the Momsen - to patrol near the Chinese-claimed Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands.