China’s navy carried out drills in the South China Sea to simulate fending off an aerial attack, state media said on Friday, as China and the United States trade barbs over who is responsible for heightened tensions in the disputed waterways. U.S. 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 U.S. activity in the region, including reports last week that U.S. 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 an also unspecified training base to prepare for real-life combat against aerial targets after China’s leadership said some training failed to prepare troops effectively, the paper said. The United States and China have frequently sparred over who is militarising the South China Sea, with Beijing blaming tensions on actions such as the “freedom of navigation” operations carried out by the U.S. navy.
Washington says such operations are necessary to counter China’s efforts to limit nautical movement in the strategic waterway. A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed through waters claimed by China in May just days after the United States uninvited China from a major U.S. hosted naval drill. Critics have said these 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. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing claims in the South China Sea.