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The drill involved China’s People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps and reportedly demonstrates how the Communist nation’s forces could project power across the contested waters. The drill took place on May 5.
The Marine Corps – or PLANMC – undertook an anti-piracy exercise near the Parcel Islands.
The drills showed off the corps capabilities to China’s neighbours at a time where tensions are increasingly growing in the area.
According to reports, the exercise simulated covert, amphibious assaults by the PLANMC and featured fast-moving speedboats as well as naval aviation aircrafts.
Over the last three years, the strength of the PLANMC has nearly tripled in size to more than 35,000 troops according to a report for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
As global tensions rise, the corps have announced another military exercise planned in August.
Kyodo News claimed the Marines will be “simulating an island seizure operation”.
China has yet to confirm the plans but a Global Times article hinted that the exercise would be designed to simulate a takeover of Taiwan.
Andrew Scobell, the Bren Chair in Non-Western Strategic Thought at Marine Corps University, said: “The PLA is intent on improving its expeditionary capabilities and the Marines are considered a key – if not the core – component of this expeditionary force.
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“The South China Sea is an obvious and convenient training ground for Chinese Marines.”
In recent weeks, tensions have risen in the heavily disputed South China Sea area.
Last week, the US Air Force and Marines conducted training exercises in the area with three submarines joining ships and aircraft in the nearby Philippine Sea.
The actions are thought to be a reaction to Chinese harassment of ships drilling for resources in nearby waters.
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Back in April, three US ships joined the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta and sailed to the region to demonstrate a commitment to keeping the sea open.
Last week, a standoff between China and Malaysia over the potential natural gas and oil reserves beneath the South China Sea appeared to end as both vessels moved away from each other.
The South China Sea region is a disputed territory where it faces rival ownership claims from China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Diplomatic relations between the nations, which have laid claim to the islands, are already extremely strained.
The recent construction of bunkers on some of the atolls points to China preparing to “protection against air or missile strikes”, raising the prospect of a potential conflict, sparking World War 3 fears.
The islands and surrounding reefs have been the subject of a bitter and long-running territorial dispute, with China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all laying claim to parts of the archipelago.
Earlier this month, China hit out at Vietnam’s fishing protest in the South China Sea days after Beijing issued a ban on trawlers in part of the disputed waters.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said its neighbour had no right to comment on the annual summer prohibition on fishing, insisting China had every right to issue such a ban.
The rebuke came after Vietnam last week resisted China’s decision to kick its fishermen out of the sea on May 1 and will not be allowed to return until mid-August.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry hit out at the ban and said China should not “further complicate the situation in the South China Sea”.
Vietnam’s protest came weeks after the country claimed one of its boats had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel.
The two countries have for years been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the stretch of water.
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