Beijing: China on Thursday defended its naval ships conducting training missions near Malaysia and Brunei, asserting that its navy has a right to patrol the disputed South China Sea.
The Chinese navy has a right to patrol the South China Sea, a Foreign Ministry spokesman Hone Lei said responding to questions of four-ship Chinese Navy fleet conducting patrol and training missions near James Shoal, called by China as Zing Reef, the southernmost part of the South China Sea.
The fully equipped PLA amphibious naval task force created flutter yesterday conducting exercises near James Shoal, some 80 km from Malaysia, less than 200 kilometres from Brunei and 1,800 kilometres from the mainland coast.
On Tuesday, a simmering row between China and Vietnam over the disputed Sea came to the fore with Hanoi protesting over a Chinese patrol vessel firing on its fishing boat and Beijing defending its action as "legitimate and necessary" to protect sovereignty.
China virtually claims sovereignty over entire South China Sea, a claim contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
The four-ship flotilla headed by the landing ship Jinggangshan conducted the exercises at outer limits of China`s "nine-dash line", by which it lays claim to the entire South China Sea.
"It was a surprisingly strong message in sending out this task force, on such a new operational role from previous PLAN [PLA Navy] patrols in the region," the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted Gary Li, a senior analyst with IHS Fairplay in London, as saying.
"It is not just a few ships here and there, but a crack amphibious landing ship carrying marines and hovercraft and backed by some of the best escort ships in the PLAN fleet," he said adding jet fighters had also been used to cover the task force.