Two Chinese pilots die during training exercise: Navy

BEIJING (AFP) - Two Chinese pilots died during a training exercise, the navy said on Tuesday, praising their "heroic sacrifice" for steering their burning aircraft away from a residential area.

The deaths of Mr Jiang Tao, a 27-year-old flight instructor, and his student Lu Pengfei, 22, were announced as Beijing released a paper detailing ambitions to project its military power further beyond its borders at sea and more assertively in the air.

The men died after an engine fire broke out as they flew a training aircraft over the north-eastern province of Liaoning, the People's Liberation Army navy said. "After successfully flying the plane to avoid a densely populated area and their height being too low to parachute, they made a heroic sacrifice," it said in a post on its official microblog, accompanied by a memorial candle and crying emoji.

The post on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo service also included several photographs of the two men during training, posing in their dress uniforms and singing. There were only 17 seconds between the fire being observed on the ground and the crash, which happened two weeks ago, the official navy news portal reported. The plane crashed in a forest, the official navy news site said.

The announcement came on the same day as the Chinese government detailed plans aimed at projecting its military power further beyond its borders.

The navy will put a greater emphasis on "open seas protection", rather than "offshore waters defence" alone, the State Council, China's Cabinet, said in a white paper.

At the same time, its air force will shift focus "from territorial air defence to both defence and offence", it said.