China’s air force and navy have announced drills in the South China Sea to help develop preparedness for war, military leaders said, after the British defence secretary indicated the UK would sail a warship through the disputed region.
The Chinese military’s latest fighters and bombers were involved in the exercises over the disputed region, as China continues to flex its muscles on the world stage.
The drills come after Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, gave a nationalist speech last week when he warned of Beijing’s willingness to fight a "bloody battle" against its enemies.
They also come after Gavin Williamson, British Defence Secretary, said last month that the HMS Sutherland, an anti-submarine frigate, would sail through the South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation rights.
The warship was expected to make the patrol during March. However, Chinese military officials said its recently announced drills were not aimed towards any country.
China’s airforce carried out a "high-sea training mission" in the West Pacific and a joint combat patrol mission in the South China Sea, according to the airforce’s social media account, which did not say when the drills took place.
The exercises tested China’s latest military hardware, such as its H-6K bombers and Su-30 and Su-35 fighters.
Meanwhile, the PLA Navy also said last Friday it was planning to hold drills in the South China Sea to test the navy’s "combat readiness".
The Air Force said on its social media account that the exercises were "rehearsals for future wars and are the most direct preparation for combat."
Meanwhile, Chen Liang, commander of a naval air force, said: "Pilots will all march ahead without fear, no matter how complicated the drill environments are and how unfamiliar the drill regions are.
"They always maintain mentally prepared for wars," he told the Chinese language website of the Global Times newspaper.
China claims nearly all of the strategic South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several south-east Asian nations including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Observers say China is developing its military capabilities by fortifying and building infrastructure on what were previously reefs and partially-submerged islets in the sea, where more than $5 trillion (£3.8 trillion) of trade passes every year.
The US Navy has conducted a series of freedom of navigation patrols in the region.
The latest, last Friday, saw a US Navy destroyer come within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island China has built in the South China Sea, sparking anger from Beijing.
Additional reporting by Christine Wei
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