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The Liaoning aircraft carrier sails during a drill in 2018. The PLA is conducting live ammunition training in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Strait until Thursday. Photo: AFP

China holds naval drills ahead of US-led Quad exercise off the coast of Guam

  • PLA is conducting live ammunition training in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea and Bohai Strait
  • It will finish as American, Indian, Australian and Japanese navies begin high-profile Malabar exercise
China kicked off a series of naval exercises on Tuesday, ahead of a high-profile joint drill between the US and other members of the strategic Quad alliance off the coast of Guam.
Chinese forces are conducting live ammunition training near the southern province of Guangdong in the South China Sea, and off the northeast coast near Liaoning in the Yellow Sea and Bohai Strait, according to Maritime Safety Administration notices warning against entry to the waters.

The drills will run until Thursday but no further details have been announced.

It comes as the United States is seeking to reassure allies of its commitment to the region amid fallout from the Afghanistan withdrawal and the chaotic fall of Kabul. Speaking in Singapore on Tuesday, Vice-President Kamala Harris took aim at China, saying it posed a threat to Asian nations but that the US would not force them to choose between the world’s two largest economies.
Harris also identified China’s “unlawful” territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea as a key regional threat. “Beijing’s actions continue to undermine the rules-based order and threaten the sovereignty of nations,” she said in the speech ahead of a visit to Vietnam.


In Singapore, US VP Harris talks about South China Sea, US exit from Afghanistan and Covid-19

In Singapore, US VP Harris talks about South China Sea, US exit from Afghanistan and Covid-19

Beijing claims the vast majority of the resource-rich South China Sea, a long-standing source of regional tension with other claimants including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. The US has carried out frequent military exercises and transits through the waters in a bid to push back on what it says is Chinese overreach and militarisation of the waters, while Beijing has accused the US of threats of force and provocations in the South China Sea.

Harris’ trip will be followed by a naval exercise conducted jointly by the United States, India, Australia and Japan – the four members of the Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which is seen by Beijing as part of the US strategy to contain China’s growing influence in the region. The four-day Malabar drill will be held in the US Pacific territory of Guam from Thursday and will include anti-surface, anti-air and anti-submarine warfare exercises.
The US has just held its largest amphibious exercise in 40 years, which took place across 17 time zones and involved 25,000 personnel from global combat commands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Europe.


PLA releases footage of joint air, land and sea exercises in Hong Kong

PLA releases footage of joint air, land and sea exercises in Hong Kong
Yue Gang, a former People’s Liberation Army colonel, said the PLA aimed to send a message to the US with this week’s drills. “The Chinese military is responding to US moves to team up with its allies – including when the UK and Germany carry out freedom of navigation operations in the region,” he said. “When the US steps up its presence in the region, China has to respond and show its muscle.”

But former PLA instructor Song Zhongping said the drills were not necessarily a direct warning ahead of the Quad exercises, and that the training was based on a fixed plan to “safeguard our national sovereignty and development interests”.

“We should understand this around the idea of training your troops for a thousand days so that they will be prepared to fight at any moment, which means training for 365 days a year,” he said. “These exercises are not necessarily because of any other country, and we will train, regardless of what others are doing.”

As the Quad flexes its military muscles this week, there are also growing concerns over the security situation in the Taiwan Strait. Beijing claims Taiwan as its own, and has vowed to bring the democratic island under its rule, by force if necessary.
China’s military conducted extensive air and naval drills near Taiwan last week to “safeguard national sovereignty”, in response to what the PLA said were provocations from the US and Taiwan. It came after the US and Taiwan agreed to hold regular talks between their coastguards, which could include joint drills, and the US approved a new US$750 million arms sale package to Taiwan in a continued sign of their warming ties.
China on Saturday said it had successfully tested two short-range conventional missiles designed to take out enemy communication systems, which analysts say could be used to target Taiwan, the US or Japan.

Additional reporting by Kinling Lo

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: P.L.A. Navy holds live-fire exercises