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China Sends Dozens Of Naval Vessels To The South China Sea After Trump’s Power Play

REUTERS/Bobby Yip

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Dozens of Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy ships and submarines are putting China’s growing military might on display in the disputed South China Sea just days after a U.S. Navy destroyer challenged China’s extensive claims to the region.

Satellite photos taken Monday and provided to Reuters by Planet Labs reveal more than 40 naval vessels putting on an unusual show of force in the South China Sea. The flotilla is led by the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier.

Satellite photo dated March 26, 2018 shows Chinese ships south of Hainan, China. Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS

Satellite photo dated March 26, 2018 shows Chinese ships south of Hainan, China. Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS

A number of People’s Liberation Army Air Force H-6K bombers and Su-30 and Su-35 fighters are believed to have recently conducted drills over the South China Sea. The Chinese Air Force described the exercises as “rehearsals for future wars and are the most direct preparation for combat.”

The Chinese navy’s linear activity in the South China Sea is, according to Reuters, less consistent with combat drills and more in line with maneuvers for propaganda purposes, which is interesting given that Chinese President Xi Jinping is emphasizing combat readiness as he attempts to modernize the Chinese military.

Satellite photo dated March 26, 2018 shows Chinese ships south of Hainan, China. Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS

Satellite photo dated March 26, 2018 shows Chinese ships south of Hainan, China. Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS

The exercise comes just days after the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands as part of a “freedom of navigation” operation. Chinese Ministry of Defense spokesman Ren Guoqing described the operation a “serious political and military provocation.”

“The US, who deliberately stirs up troubles and creates tension in the South China Sea to disrupt peace and stability there, is running against the will of regional countries who aspire for stability, cooperation and development,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in response.

The U.S. Navy has conducted around half a dozen FONOPs since President Donald Trump entered the White House last year. While the ongoing Chinese drills in the South China Sea were announced the same day the latest FONOP was revealed, China asserts the exercises are “a routine part of the Navy’s annual training plan and is intended to boost the troops’ combat capability.”

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