BEIJING - Chinese naval vessels including an island landing ship began drills Monday in the South China Sea, where China and several other nations are locked in territorial disputes.
Two destroyers and China's largest amphibious landing craft started the exercises after sailing from the naval base on the southern island province of Hainan, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The ships also boast three helicopters and a company of marines.
Xinhua quoted Commander Jiang Weilie as saying the drills would focus on integrated combat missions involving ships, submarines and aircraft, suggesting other units may also be involved.
China has moved sharply to assert its claim to nearly the entire South China Sea and its island groups, frequently dispatching patrol vessels to challenge foreign ships and demanding that other nations obtain its permission to fish in the area. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim the entire sea or parts of it.
Late last year, China dispatched its first aircraft carrier and accompanying ships to the South China Sea for sea trials. One of the ships turned to block a U.S. ship shadowing the flotilla, forcing it to take action to avoid a collision.