BEIJING • China's military carried out war games in the disputed South China Sea this week, with warships, submarines and fighter jets simulating cruise missile strikes on ships, the official People's Liberation Army Daily reported yesterday.
China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which more than US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) of maritime trade passes each year. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
While Indonesia is not a claimant state, its exclusive economic zone overlaps with China's claims, and its Defence Minister on Tuesday said the country plans to strengthen its capability to defend the Natuna Islands and its waters, parts of which are claimed by China.
"The Natuna Islands are our outer islands. It is quite natural and logical that a country has to secure its outer islands," Mr Ryamizard Ryacudu said in an interview with Japanese news agency Kyodo News.
He added that his country plans to deploy a fleet of jet fighters and three corvettes to the islands, revamp its naval and air force bases and increase the number of troops.
The US Pacific Fleet Commander on Monday warned of a possible arms race in the disputed South China Sea which could engulf the region, as nations become increasingly tempted to use military force to settle territorial spats.
In a front page story, the Chinese defence newspaper said the drill was carried out on Wednesday across "several thousand sq km" of waters somewhere in the South China Sea. The forces were split into two teams, red and blue, as military commanders threw various scenarios at them, including an accidental missile strike on a commercial ship operated by a third party, it said.
The warships also simulated deflecting anti-ship missile attacks, and operating in concert with submarines, early warning aircraft and fighter jets, the report added.
"Only by experiencing a variety of difficult situations can one not panic in the midst of war and win," the paper quoted Rear Admiral Li Xiaoyan, deputy chief of staff of the South China Sea fleet and commander of the red team, as saying.
China periodically announces such exercises in the South China Sea, as it tries to demonstrate it is being transparent about its military deployments.
On Sunday, the Defence Ministry said the navy had recently carried out drills in the South China Sea. It was not clear if the exercises referred to by the newspaper and these drills were the same.
China has been at odds with the United States of late over the strategic waterway. Washington has criticised Beijing's building of artificial islands in the South China Sea's disputed Spratly archipelago, saying it poses a threat to freedom of navigation in the critical area.
The US has conducted sea and air patrols near them. Last month, US B-52 bombers flew near some of China's artificial islands, and at the end of October, a US guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of them.
China expressed concern last week about an agreement between the US and Singapore to deploy a US P8 Poseidon spy plane to the city state, saying the move was aimed at militarising the region.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE