BEIJING Jan 30 Three advanced Chinese warships
left port on Wednesday for naval drills and war games in the
Western Pacific, and the fleet will likely pass through disputed
waters in the East and South China Sea, state media said.
The official Xinhua news agency described the manoeuvres as
routine, but they come as China is engaged in an increasingly
bitter, high stakes dispute over maritime territory with Japan
and with several Southeast Asia nations.
"The fleet will carry out more than 20 types of exercises
including naval confrontation, battle drills far out at sea, the
protection of maritime rights and command and control," Xinhua
cited the Defence Ministry as saying in a statement.
"These exercises on the high seas will take in the Yellow
Sea, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the Miyako Strait,
the Bashi Channel and the seas to the east of Taiwan."
President Hu Jintao has made boosting the navy a priority,
especially in trying to turn it into a blue-water fleet able to
operate far from China's shore, and Chinese ships have
participated in anti-piracy missions off Somalia.
But China's growing defence budget, military advances and
perceived lack of transparency have alarmed its neighbours and
the United States. China is developing stealth fighters and last
year launched its first aircraft carrier.
On Sunday, the government said it had again tested emerging
military technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.
China says it has no hostile designs and that it is simply
updating its outdated forces.
The Pacific drills are "a normal way of exercising to raise
the fighting ability of the navy", Xinhua cited a naval officer
as saying, adding that it was common for other navies to drill
in seas far from home.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)