Xi makes surprise visit to fleet in South China Sea drill

The region has become a potential flashpoint, with the US saying China's activities in the area pose a threat to freedom of navigation in the strategically vital waterway, where Beijing has built an archipelago of artificial islands capable of hosting military equipment.

Xi makes surprise visit to fleet in South China Sea drill

World Bulletin / News Desk

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday stressed the "urgent" need to build a powerful navy during a surprise visit to observe naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea, state media reported as the country prepares for live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait.

Footage of Xi's visit on state broadcaster CCTV showed the president watching jets taking off from China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and joining sailors for a meal.

In a speech to the assembled troops, Xi said China's task to build a powerful navy "has never been as urgent as it is today".

His visit comes as Washington engages in its own muscle flexing in the region, where the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt gave a demonstration Tuesday for members of the Philippine government.

China's own naval drill -- involving the Liaoning and dozens of other vessels -- began at the end of March, with US officials saying the two exercises are separated by several hundred kilometres (miles).

Some 48 warships, 76 fighter jets, and more than 10,000 navy personnel took part in the drill at an undisclosed location, said China Military, a newspaper affiliated to the People's Liberation Army.

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea despite rival claims from several of its Southeast Asian neighbours.

China regularly protests when US warships' carry out "freedom of navigation" operations near its islands.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Haziran 2018, 15:03
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