BEIJING (AP) — China began two days of military training in the South China Sea Sunday, as its defense minister warned that China's armed forces would "resolutely take action" to defend Beijing's claims over the area.
The China Maritime Safety Administration announced the drills were being held all day Sunday and for half a day on Tuesday in an area near China's holdings in the Paracel island group.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea as its own territory and strongly objects to naval activity in the area by other nations. Another five governments exercise overlapping claims, particularly in the Spratly islands to the east.
The waterway rich in fishing grounds through which passes an estimated $5 trillion in global commerce annually has become a global security hotspot, largely due to growing Chinese assertiveness in pressing its claims.
China has expanded through reclamation or built entirely new man-made islands atop coral reefs to cement its footprint in the area, equipping many of them with military installations and airfields.
Speaking Sunday at an annual security conference in Singapore, Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe strongly criticized U.S. activities in what China considers its sphere of influence, including supporting self-governing Taiwan and sending U.S. Navy on freedom of navigation operations near Chinese island outposts.
The People's Liberation Army would not "yield a single inch of the country's sacred land," Wei told participants at the Shangri-La Dialogue.