The Chinese navy is holding military exercises in the disputed South China Sea as US President Joe Biden begins South Korea and Japan trips largely focused on countering the perceived threat from Beijing. The drills began on Thursday and will continue until Monday, the Maritime Safety Administration office in China’s southern island province of Hainan said. Other aircraft and vessels will be prohibited from entering the area, the office said, but gave no further details. Beijing claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety and the crucial waterway has become a potential flashpoint for conflict in Asia. The US does not take a foreign position on the sovereignty issue, but insists on the right to operate freely in the sea and frequently sails warships close to militarised Chinese-held islands in the area in what it calls “freedom of navigation operations”. Beijing hits out at US after destroyer passes through Taiwan Strait China routinely protests such missions, labelling them deliberate provocations that endanger peace and stability. To assert its claim, it has built airstrips and other military infrastructure atop human-made islands built on coral reefs and atolls. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan also exercise overlapping claims in the South China Sea. The Philippine coastguard said on Friday it had established outposts on three islands in the contested waters, a move likely to be frowned upon by Beijing. China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, has been conducting a mission in the Sea of Japan since the beginning of the month. The defence ministry in Beijing has described its exercises as “routine training” aimed at boosting performance that is “in line with relevant international law and international practice, and not targeting any party”. China also flew a pair of long-range nuclear-capable H-6 bombers through the area on Wednesday, Chinese media reports said. While in Japan, Biden will on Tuesday meet fellow leaders of the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance known as the Quad, a group that includes Australia, India and Japan. The four nations share concerns over China’s growing regional assertiveness and increasingly capable armed forces. ‘More than 100’ PLA Navy sorties send message to West over Taiwan Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has criticised what he called negative moves by Washington and Tokyo against Beijing. “What arouses attention and vigilance is the fact that, even before the American leader has set out for the meeting, the so-called joint Japan-US anti-China rhetoric is already kicking up dust,” Wang told his Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi during a video call on Wednesday, according to the Beijing ministry.