China announces Pacific naval exercises


China's first aircraft carrier docked at a shipyard in Dalian in northeastern China's Liaoning province. AP File Photo

BEIJING—China has said it will conduct “routine” naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean, in the week after a major diplomatic campaign by US President Barack Obama to assert the United States as a Pacific power.

The defense ministry said the exercises were pre-arranged and did not target any particular country, but the announcement comes against a background of growing tensions over maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific region.

“China’s People’s Liberation Army navy will conduct exercises in the western Pacific ocean at the end of November,” the ministry said in a brief statement late Wednesday.

“This is a routine drill arranged under an annual plan, does not target any particular country or target, and complies with relevant international laws and international practice.”

Obama flew home Saturday after a week-long Pacific odyssey, in which he took in a trio of summits and announced greater military involvement in the region with the deployment of up to 2,500 US Marines to northern Australia.

“Here is what this region must know. As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority,” Obama announced during a visit to Australia last week.

Washington’s new diplomatic campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power has alarmed China, which sees the initiatives, including stationing the Marines in Australia, as intruding into its sphere of influence.

China’s Premier Wen Jiabao has warned against interference by “external forces” in territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a strategic and resource-rich area where several regional nations have overlapping claims.

China claims all of the maritime area, as does Taiwan, while four Southeast Asian countries declare ownership of parts of it, with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Chinese forces of increasing aggression there.

The latest announcement came after China’s government news service Xinhua said Asian suspicions would be raised by Obama’s plan to base US troops in Australia and by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s declaration that the 21st century will be “America’s Pacific century”.

“If the United States sticks to its Cold War mentality and continues to engage with Asian nations in a self-assertive way, it is doomed to incur repulsion in the region,” the agency said.

“Many countries wonder what kind of ‘leadership’ America aspires to assume in the future. The hard fact is that the Pacific Ocean belongs to all countries sharing its shores, not just the United States,” Xinhua said.

An initially reluctant Wen was pressed into addressing maritime security at a meeting of Southeast Asian nations on the Indonesian island of Bali last week after other leaders brought up the issue.

China’s premier said the Asian giant wanted to reach a code of conduct for the sea.

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