Meanwhile tensions in the region have been underlined by Washington’s decision to step up reconnaissance operations, as well as France’s to send deploy military vessels. The People’s Liberations Army (PLA) is carrying out the lengthy drill in a three-mile radius area west of the Leizhou Peninsula in Guangdong province, a navigation restriction notice released by the China Maritime Safety Administration confirmed on Friday.
The notice urged other ships not to enter the area during March, with no additional information provided.
A statement issued today proclaimed: “We will not lose an inch of our land left to us by our ancestors.
“We are determined to maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea.
“We oppose any nations creating tensions and stepping up military presence under the name of freedom of navigation.”
State broadcaster CCTV also screened video footage showing military manoeuvres, including the use of missiles to hit target surface vessels and aircraft.
The exercises are likely to be in part a response to the US decision to send aircraft and naval ships to the South and East China Seas, the vast bulk of which China claims sovereignty.
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In addition to the US activity, France last month sent an amphibious assault ship and a frigate which are expected to transit the South China Sea twice for freedom of navigation operations aimed at countering China’s claims of dominance.
The South China Sea is regarded as a major potential flashpoint in international relations, with China having fortified numerous uninhabited islands.
Speaking to Express.co.uk last year, Tobias Ellwood MP, chairman of Parliament’s Defence Committee, said: “There are three areas where China is advancing: economically, through the One Belt, One Road initiative, technologically, through its push with Huawei, tying people into that, and then, of course, militarily.
“Ultimately they are creating fortresses across the South China Sea and nobody is challenging them on that, despite international law saying otherwise.
“Once they have got a military presence there they then can use that to expand their own footprint to challenge anybody that comes through.
“It’s getting more and more aggressive – we send ships through occasionally but they are treated with such hostility that you can easily see a minor conflict spiralling out of control.”
He added: “China covets superpower status but avoids any sense of duty to uphold the core values that we enjoy – freedom, democracy, rule of law etc.
“What it is doing is promoting a competing vision, subtly forcing nations to choose sides, the authoritarian system of control versus ours.
“They are utilising Huawei and other things to ensnare small countries into its web of influence and we are seeing this in the South China Sea as well.”