CHINA could be deploying “carrier-killer” missiles to the South China Sea as the US stages its biggest war games for 40 years in the region.
The country is gearing up for a mega military exercise from Friday to Tuesday.
A vast navigation restriction zone has already been set up, with vessels prohibited from entering.
The exclusion area stretches from waters off the southeast of Hainan Island to waters around the Xisha Islands, it has been reported.
Some claim the set-up resembles last year’s drill which saw the Chinese People’s Liberation Army fire “aircraft carrier killer” anti-ship ballistic missiles.
However, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson said at the time that the exercises were routine and did not target any country.
Both ship and land-based missiles are expected to be involved in this year’s drill to “hone the PLA’s capabilities to fight and win wars under realistic combat scenarios”.
Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times the PLA is advocating the concept of joint operations featuring multiple military services.
‘PREPARING FOR WAR’
The US is carrying out its own exercises as Washington “prepares” for a future world war amid rising tensions with Russia and China.
Thousands of marines and sailors are taking part in the largest war games since Cold War exercises during the 1980s.
Fleets began the large scale exercise on Tuesday and the drills across 17 time zones will continue until August 16.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep concern about China’s growing nuclear arsenal during a meeting with foreign ministers of Asian countries and partner nations, the State Department said on Friday.
Addressing a virtual meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which groups more than two dozen countries, Blinken also called on China to cease “provocative” behavior in the South China Sea.
What is the dispute in the South China Sea about?
The dispute centres around legal claims to ocean areas and two island chains, the Paracels and the Spratlys, which are thought to be abundant in natural resources.
Every year some £3.8 trillion of trade passes through the dispute area and the United States has been joined by Australia, the UK and France in sailing warships through it to assert freedom of navigation
China has engaged in a massive military build-up in the area, creating a network of artificial islands, which it uses to assert its territorial claim.
It claims that these are part of its national coastline but the United States and the Philippines say that doesn’t apply to artificial islands.
China’s claim to a 12 mile territorial limit around the islands is not internationally recognised.
Warships from the United States and China have been engaged in tense stand-offs which have threatened to escalate into conflict in the disputed seas.
In January 2020, China reacted with fury after the US sent a missile destroyer through the disputed waters in a direct challenge to Beijing.
China responded by scrambling warships and aircraft to intercept the ship, which sailed within a dozen miles of the increasingly-militarised Paracel Island chain.
The UK’s HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed through the South China Sea on Monday, followed by German warship Bayern frigate.
Experts have warned Britain’s new aircraft carrier faces a swarm of Chinese missiles as it completes its first mission to the “volatile” sea.
The DF-17 can perform “extreme manoeuvres” as it hurtles at Mach 10 – some 7,600mph – towards a target, with carriers unlikely to survive a direct hit.
The missile comprises of a rocket which flies to around 25 miles above the earth and then launches a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) armed with a warhead.
The £3billion Big Lizzie, as she is nicknamed, is being deployed to conduct freedom of navigation patrols with the US and Japanese navies.
India also reportedly plans to send warships to the region.