China conducted two one-day live-fire drills in the South China Sea this week while the US and the Philippine navies carried out joint sea and air patrols at the same time.
The exercises happened less than a week after Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed ways of easing tensions with both his American and Philippine counterparts during a visit to California.
The Chinese Maritime Safety Administration announced two no-entry zones in waters near Hainan island on Monday, saying all vessels should stay away from the areas as the Chinese navy conducted “military training” and “live-fire shooting exercises”.
The navy also dispatched the Type 054A guided-missile frigate Yuncheng to the South China Sea for what the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theatre Command described as a “routine patrol”.
The drills near Hainan Island and the Yuncheng’s mission coincided with a three-day joint patrol by the US and the Philippine navies. It started in Mavulis island, the Philippines’ northernmost point, located about 100km (60 miles) off Taiwan, and finished in the Philippine exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Although the US-Philippine joint patrol was conducted far from Hainan, Southern Theatre Command slammed Manila for “co-opting external forces” into the disputed waters.
The command’s spokesman, Senior Colonel Tian Junli, said: “Such a move stirs up trouble, hypes up the situation, undermines regional peace and stability and violates the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea [a non-binding declaration designed to reduce tensions in the disputed waters].
“The troops of the theatre command remain on high alert to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security, maritime rights and interests, and peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
However, Southern Theatre Command said the Yuncheng’s mission was not in response to the joint patrol.
The Philippine military said that three navy vessels, two FA-50 light combat aircraft and an A-29B Super Tucano light attack plane took part in the joint patrol, while the US sent a littoral combat ship and a P8-A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.
Last Friday Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr met Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, where they discussed ways to reduce tensions in the South China Sea following a series of confrontations between ships from the two countries, including coastguard and navy ships.
Xi also met his US counterpart Joe Biden and agreed to restore high-level military dialogue to avoid risks of misunderstanding and miscalculation.
China claims most of the South China Sea, which is contested by the Philippines as well as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Marcos has sought closer ties with the US since taking office in 2022. The two allies have agreed to double the number of Philippine bases the American military can access, some facing Taiwan, and conducted their largest-ever joint military drill in April.