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South China Sea

China holds simultaneous drills in 3 Asia seas

Exercises in regional 'battle zones' come as US carriers sail South China Sea

BEIJING -- China conducted military exercises in the South and East China seas as well as in the Yellow Sea last week, flexing its muscles amid growing tensions with the U.S.

State-run media touted the unusual simultaneous exercises in what it called the "three major battle zones." Speculation suggests that the large-scale drills were intended not only to send a strong message to the outside world, but also to distract from concerns at home.

A missile destroyer and two helicopters practiced capturing unrecognized vessels in the East China Sea, state broadcaster China Central Television reported. The drill is thought to have been tailored for the waters near Taiwan and the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu.

The People's Liberation Army also conducted live-fire exercises in the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea. Civilian ships were banned from sailing near the Paracel Islands in the latter waters from Wednesday to Sunday.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy is conducting large-scale exercises in the South China Sea involving the two aircraft carrier strike groups of the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan. A B-52 bomber was sent from the American mainland to take part in the exercise as well. It is rare for both China and the U.S. to conduct military exercises in the same area, highlighting growing tensions in the waters.

Aircraft from the Nimitz carrier strike force and a B-52 bomber from Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana conduct joint operations over the South China Sea. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

"There is growing concern within China over heightened tensions with countries like the U.S. and India," a Chinese military source said.

Top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi visited an American military base in Hawaii last month to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But the officials appeared to make little progress on improving bilateral relations.

Tensions have only grown since, with China enacting a controversial national security law covering Hong Kong. The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would allow Washington to sanction Chinese Communist Party members and financial institutions that undermine Hong Kong's autonomy.

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party also drafted a resolution on Friday asking Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government to cancel a planned state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The visit has been postponed due to the coronavirus.

Beijing has intensified maritime activities since March, when the coronavirus outbreak passed its peak in China. Two Chinese Coast Guard vessels spent about 37 hours in Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus this weekend, the Japan Coast Guard said -- the longest incursion since Japan nationalized the islands in 2012. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials also have escalated their rhetoric against Australia and Canada.

"It's a negative cycle where China's moves trigger pushback from other countries, which in turn drives China to double down," a diplomatic source in Beijing said.

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