March 29, 2018 / 10:39 AM / 4 months ago

China says South China Sea drills routine, no word on carrier

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday the military was carrying out routine training in the South China Sea, but would not comment on the presence of China’s sole operational aircraft carrier there.

Dozens of Chinese naval vessels are exercising this week with an aircraft carrier in a large show of force off China’s Hainan island in the South China Sea, satellite images obtained by Reuters show.

The images, provided by Planet Labs Inc, confirmed a Chinese carrier group had entered the important trade waterway as part of what the Chinese navy earlier described as combat drills that were part of routine annual exercises.

The Liaoning carrier group last week traversed the Taiwan Strait, according to the Taiwan defence ministry.

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang, asked about the pictures of the ships in the South China Sea at a regular monthly news briefing, said the military was conducting routine drills in line with annual plans which were not aimed at any country.

“It’s aim is to test the training capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army and enhance their training capabilities. It is also aimed at improving combat abilities of the whole military,” Ren said.

“As to the specific movements of the aircraft carrier the Liaoning, the navy will release information in due course,” he added, without elaborating.

However, he later confirmed that the Liaoning had passed through the Taiwan Strait, in what he said was also part of normal and regular training activities, and that these drills would continue. He gave no details.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

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