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The Chinese navy vessels on Monday set sail from a military port in south China’s Hainan Province.
According to official Chinese data, the South China Sea covers 3.55 million square km, while China exercises jurisdiction over about 2 million square km of it.
The drill, part of the Chinese navy’s annual exercises, includes combat exercises in the West Pacific Ocean and the east Indian Ocean.
The three-ship flotilla consists of an amphibious landing craft Changbaishan and destroyers Wuhan and Haikou.
The Changbaishan is China’s largest landing ship and is equipped with an advanced weapon system. The two Chinese destroyers Wuhan and Haikou have undertaken major drills and escort missions in the Gulf of Aden.
Three helicopters and a company of land forces are aboard the ships.
Fleet commander Jiang Weilie said this drill focuses on testing the combat ability of leading ships, submarines and aviation forces while exploring methods for normalized open sea drills.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam and other nations lay contesting claims to these waters.
The Chinese government had since the beginning of this month announced new rules requiring foreign fishing vessels to seek Beijing’s permission to operate in some parts of the South China Sea.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson clarified last week that the rules are “routine for an ocean state” amid uproar from both Vietnam and the Philippines and increasing intervention from Washington.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the South China Sea fishing rules are “provocative and potentially dangerous”.
Manila said last week that the rules “escalates tensions, unnecessarily complicates the situation in the South China Sea, and threatens regional peace and stability”. Hanoi also voiced opposition, urging Beijing to abolish the “illegal” rules.