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China navy to stage drills in western Pacific

BEIJING, Jun 9 – China said Thursday it would conduct naval training drills in the western Pacific later this month, state media reported, amid lingering fears among Beijing\’s neighbours about its military ambitions.

The exercises will take place in international waters and are "not targeted at any specific country", the defence ministry said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

The ministry did not offer further information about the location of what it called a "regular" drill, nor did it say which ships would participate.

Military observers are keenly awaiting the launch of the country\’s first aircraft carrier, which is currently based in the northeast port city of Dalian.

Earlier this week, a top official in China\’s People\’s Liberation Army gave the first confirmation of the existence of the carrier, in an exclusive interview with the Hong Kong Commercial Daily.

Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the PLA, said the 300-metre (990-foot) refurbished Soviet carrier "is being built, but it has not been completed", without elaborating.

Qi Jianguo, another PLA general staff official, told the newspaper that the carrier would not enter other nations\’ territories, in accordance with Beijing\’s defensive military strategy.

"All of the great nations in the world own aircraft carriers — they are symbols of a great nation," Qi was quoted as saying.

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China is involved in a number of simmering marine territorial disputes with its neighbours.

It has claimed mineral rights around the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and argued that foreign navies cannot sail through the area without Beijing\’s permission.

In April, Admiral Robert Willard, head of US Pacific Command, nevertheless said China\’s navy had adopted a less aggressive stance in the Pacific after protests from Washington and other nations in the region.


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