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China Upgrades South China Sea exercises amid US-Philippine moves

MANILA (Bloomberg): China upgraded and extended military maneuvers in the South China Sea that were launched after the US and Philippines mounted their own maritime drills in the contested area.

After previously characterizing the operations as patrols, China said that People’s Liberation Army naval and air forces conducted drills on Friday, according to a Southern Theatre Command statement on its official WeChat account.

Friday’s maneuvers marked an extension of what had been two days of scheduled operations.

The purpose is to “resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security, and maritime rights and interests,” China said. The statement didn’t specify the location of China’s exercises or the types of aircraft and vessels deployed.

Beijing previously said its forces were on “high alert” and “fully aware of and prepared for any military activities that spoil the South China Sea and create flashpoints.”

The statement came as the Philippines signaled more joint activities with the US and other countries. Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano said that drills done with the US were held within his nation’s exclusive economic zone – which overlaps with China’s expansive maritime claims in contested waters.

China’s purpose in publicizing its exercises is “to display the Chinese military’s determination and capability in safeguarding its rights and interests in the South China Sea,” Chen Xiangmiao, director the World Navy Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the state-run Global Times.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have flared in recent months. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month warned that relations between Beijing and Manila were facing “serious difficulties” amid the friction in the body of water that Beijing claims nearly entirely as its own.

Source: The Star