An increase in world naval activity in the disputed South China Sea will prompt the strategic water’s largest claimant, Beijing, to send more of its own ships as a way of showing others it won’t retreat, experts say. Two Indian navy warships and a Vietnamese navy frigate held exercises last week that started at a port in Vietnam and extended into firing drills and helicopter moves further at sea, the Indian Defense Ministry said on its website. It said the exercises were “in continuation with ongoing deployment of Indian Navy ships in the South China Sea” and “would be another step towards strengthening India-Vietnam defense relations.” Among other exercises in or near the sea, a Royal Canadian Navy warship joined Australian, Japanese and U.S. naval vessels for a coordinated workout in January. Ships from Australia, India, Japan and the United States scheduled their annual Malabar exercises near Guam – the U.S. territory closest to Asia – for August 26-29. Since about the start of the year, warships from eight countries with no actual maritime claims have passed through or near the South China Sea. An increase in world naval activity in the disputed South China Sea will prompt the strategic waterway’s largest claimant, Beijing, to send more of its own ships as a way of showing others it won’t retreat, experts say. China claims about 90% of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea, overlapping waters five other governments also claim. Chinese officials point to maritime documents dating back to dynastic times as support for their claim. People’s Liberation Army Navy ships are expected to travel the sea more often and step up the frequency of exercises, scholars believe. China already held naval exercises near its southern coast this month, following a round in January and another in March. Officials in Beijing have indicated they hold exercises largely in response to U.S. movements. The People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command “will always remain on high alert” and “resolutely safeguard” China’s sovereignty, a senior colonel said in August last year after it had “warned off” a U.S. guided-missile destroyer.
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