BEIJING • China's navy carried out drills in the South China Sea to simulate fending off an aerial attack, state media said yesterday, as the country trades barbs with the United States over responsibility for heightened tension in the disputed waterway.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern during a visit to Beijing on Thursday over China's efforts to militarise the seas.
His remarks came after a flurry of US activity in the region, including reports last week that US Air Force B-52 bombers had flown near disputed islands that drew a sharp rebuke from China.
China's navy carried out a simulated missile attack in an unspecified area of the South China Sea using three target drones making flyovers of a ship formation at varying heights, the official army newspaper said.
The drills were part of efforts by a training base to prepare for real-life combat with aerial targets after China's leadership said some training failed to prepare the troops effectively.
The US and China have frequently sparred over who is militarising the South China Sea, with Beijing blaming tension on actions such as the "freedom of navigation"operations by the US Navy.
Washington says such operations are necessary to counter China's efforts to limit nautical movement there. A US Navy destroyer sailed through waters claimed by China last month, just days after the US withdrew an invitation to it for a major naval drill.
Critics have said the operations have little impact on Chinese behaviour and are largely symbolic.
Pentagon officials have long complained that China has not been candid enough about its rapid military build-up and its use of South China Sea islands to gather intelligence.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have competing claims in the South China Sea.
Strengthening the navy has been a key part of China's ambitious military modernisation overseen by President Xi Jinping, as it seeks to project power far from its shores.
State television yesterday showed pictures of Mr Xi touring a submarine in Qingdao, where he was briefed on its weapons systems, chatted with sailors and asked questions about the submarine fleet's training.