The People's Liberation Army recently staged a drill in waters close to Vietnam in the South China Sea, simulating a scenario in which an oil rig was surrounded by foreign fishing boats.
The drill, which took place in waters near Beibu Gulf, which is known as the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam, involved dozens of vessels from 10 military and civilian units, as well as several aircraft from the South Sea Fleet's naval aviation unit, a report posted on the PLA Daily website said yesterday.
The drill was held some time this summer. The report did not give an exact date.
The report said the PLA flotilla formed a few hours after receiving an order from a maritime command centre. It was reacting to the entry of "an armed suspicious fishing vessel" into waters claimed by China. The PLA vessels stopped the fishing vessel and detained 20 crewmen and one reporter, the report said.
"It's a rare maritime drill that is aimed at training all kinds of vessels patrolling nearby to provide efficient help in case there is a surprise attack from Vietnam in disputed waters in the South China Sea," Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said, adding that the PLA would stage similar drills in the future.
"The drills will help the authorities to mount powerful counterattacks as well as to threaten Vietnam and other countries involved in territorial disputes, telling them that China is well prepared to repel any possible attack against its oil rigs."
On May 2, China deployed a large oil rig, known as HD 981, to waters close to the disputed Paracel Islands, which China calls the Xisha Islands. Vietnam calls them Hoang Sa.
The action triggered a tense stand-off and raised fears of confrontation as both Beijing and Hanoi sent dozens of military and civilian ships to the area. The row prompted a series of deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam, in which at least four Chinese died.
China moved the rig last month - more than a month ahead of schedule.