China said it will conduct regular annual naval exercises in the western Pacific later this month, emphasising its rights to do so in the face of regional fears about its growing military strength.
China has been building new submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernisation, and in August made a trial launch of its first aircraft carrier, a retrofitted Soviet vessel.
“This is an annual, planned routine drill. It is not directed at any specific country or target and is in keeping with relevant international laws and practices,” a two-line statement on the Defence Ministry’s website (www.mod.gov.cn) said, Reuters reports.
“China’s freedom of navigation and other legal rights should not be obstructed,” it said, without giving further details about where the drills would occur.
China’s growing reach at sea is raising regional concerns that have fed into long-standing territorial disputes in energy-rich waters that could speed up military expansion across Asia.
A week ago, U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled plans to deepen the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific, with 2,500 U.S. Marines operating out of a de facto base in northern Australia.
In the past year, China has had run-ins at sea with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. The incidents — boat crashes and charges of territorial incursions — have been minor, but the diplomatic reaction has often been heated.
Tense maritime stand-offs have persisted in the disputed South China Sea, where key shipping lanes carry some $5 trillion a year in world trade.
Chinese state media has said that building a strong navy that is commensurate with China’s rising status is a necessary step in China’s efforts to safeguard its increasingly globalised national interests.