China on Friday conducted a massive naval drill in the disputed South China Sea. President Xi Jinping, who has repeatedly emphasised the need to expand and modernise his country's military - presided over the drill.
Chinese state media reported that the drill was the largest-ever conducted by People's Liberation Army Navy. That it was in the disputed South China Sea is being widely seen as a show of both strength and intent. The waters are claimed by several countries including Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam. The drill - which reportedly involved 10,000 naval officers, 76 fighter jets and as many as 48 warships and submarines, could be a signal that China is ready to defend what it claims is its.
On the occasion, Xi reportedly told his troops that China needs to be the world's foremost naval power and nothing short of it would suffice. He then went on board Liaoning, which is the country's only aircraft carrier - China is building a second which is expected to enter service by 2020 - to watch naval manoeuvrings and tactical training processes.
The drill is once again expected to raise alarms - not just for China's smaller neighbours but for Japan and the United States as well. And it is only one in a series of drill planned. The next will take place next Wednesday and South China Morning Post reported it could be a direct message to Taiwan - a country China sees as its part. The live-fire drill in Taiwan Strait will also include Liaoning and could potentially rub already flared nerves elsewhere.
India too may well be concerned as the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean Region has increased in recent times. China says it needs to ensure its trade routes remain safe but Indian Navy has assured that it is capable and is keeping a very close watch on every movement here. To do this, say security analysts, is crucial because apart from modernising its military, China is also quickly looking to create overseas naval bases like the one it has in Djibouti. There are rumours that the country may dock nuclear submarines in Pakistan's Gwadar port which was built with Chinese assistance.