China’s President Xi Jinping has attended a massive military drill by the country’s naval forces in the South China Sea, underlining that the need for a strong navy has “never been more pressing.”
The naval show of force on Thursday involved more than 10,000 navy troops, 76 jet fighters, and a flotilla of 48 warships and submarines.
It came after the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, leading a strike group of warships, conducted what the US military described as “routine training” in the disputed waters on Tuesday.
State broadcaster China Central Television displayed footage of Xi boarding the destroyer Changsha and sailing to an unspecified location in the South China Sea and reviewing the naval maneuver.
The Chinese president was also shown watching through binoculars four J-15 fighter jets take off from the country’s aircraft carrier Liaoning.
Xi said in a speech to the participating naval officers that the People’s Liberation Army should persevere in developing its marine forces, build up modern maritime combat systems, and enhance its capability in diversified military missions.
Upcoming drill in the Taiwan Strait
Beijing announced later on Thursday that its naval forces would conduct a live-fire military drill in the Taiwan Strait next Wednesday.
Reacting to the announcement, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that its military forces had the situation under control and could ensure the safety of the self-ruled island, which China claims as part of its territory.
China has the world’s largest standing army and has been engaged in an ambitious modernization program that reportedly includes investment in technology and new equipment such as stealth jet fighters and aircraft carriers.
The nuclear-power USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, along with its 65 supersonic F-18 fighter jets, spy planes, and helicopters later sailed toward the Philippine capital of Manila for a port visit.
Recent US deployments of aircraft carriers and destroyers to assert what Washington calls a right to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea have prompted concerns in China and other countries in the region.
At least twice this year, the US Navy has deployed destroyers near the South China Sea island of Huangyan Dao, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
Another US carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, patrolled the contested waters last month, taking part in an anti-submarine drill in the South China Sea with Japanese forces and visiting Vietnam with its 5,000-strong crew, the largest such US military presence there since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
China protested the war games, describing them as US interference in the region.