China says latest South China Sea drill was normal search and rescue exercise

Guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur in the South China Sea as part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group in the South China Sea on Oct 13, 2016.
Guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur in the South China Sea as part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group in the South China Sea on Oct 13, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's latest drill in the South China Sea was a normal search and rescue exercise, the defence ministry said on Thursday (Oct 27), less than a week after a US navy destroyer sailed near the Paracel Islands, provoking a warning from Chinese warships to leave.

China routinely holds drills in the busy waterway, where Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have rival claims.

The search and rescue exercises were being conducted off the coast of the island province of Hainan and were regular drills forming part of annual plans, a defence ministry spokesman, Wu Qian, told a monthly news briefing, but gave no further details.

China's maritime safety administration said the exercises would run all day on Thursday, and ordered all other shipping to keep away.

The maritime administration has given coordinates for an area south of Hainan and northwest of the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, but controlled by China.

China has a runway on Woody Island, its largest presence on the Paracels, and has placed surface-to-air missiles there, according to US officials.

Beijing's claim in the South China Sea is the largest of all the claimants. It argues it can do what it wants on the islands it claims as they have been Chinese since ancient times.