Beijing: The Chinese military on Thursday held its largest ever maritime drill in the disputed South China Sea during which it displayed for the first time the country's aircraft carrier strike group and the most advance weaponry of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
President Xi Jinping, also the general secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), reviewed the drill and addressed the sailors, PLA Daily reported. CMC is the overall high command of the 2-million strong Chinese military.
Forty-eight warships, 76 aircraft and more than 10,000 sailors and soldiers took part in the drill which was hailed as "the biggest maritime military parade since the foundation of the new China and a heroic display of the PLA Navy in the new era," the PLA Daily reported on Thursday.
The drill was held amid frequent forays made by US naval and aircraft into the South China Sea to assert the freedom of navigation especially around the artificial islands built by China, where it has also established garrisons. China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims over the area.
It was the first maritime military parade held in the South China Sea and to be open to the public, state-run Global Times reported. The PLA's previous four maritime parades were held in Beihai. China's aircraft carrier, Liaoning joined the parade for the first time.
All combat systems of the PLA Navy and 10 air echelons joined the parade. "The most advanced weaponry, including the Liaoning, type 052D destroyers, type 052C destroyers, type 071 amphibious transport dock and type 093 submarine all appeared on South China Sea," Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.
The parade showcased the PLA's aircraft carrier group and its enhanced combat capability in the high seas, Song said, adding that China's upgraded navy signifies the PLA is not afraid of war and is capable of winning any battle.
"China's strength in protecting its national maritime interest has grown. The Thursday parade could also serve as deterrence to maritime hegemony, making adversaries think twice before attempting to harm China's core national interests," Song said. Holding the parade in the South China Sea was strategic move as the waters are a potential combat zone, said Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert.