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China holds another round of naval drills in South China Sea

An unrelated file photo.

BEIJING (AP): China is holding another round of military drills in the South China Sea amid an uptick in such activity in the area highlighting growing tensions.

The Maritime Safety Administration said the exercises would run from Monday through Sunday. It warned outside vessels to steer 5 nautical miles (9.26 kilometers) clear of the drill area but otherwise gave no details.

China announced late last month that it had held drills in the South China Sea involving long-range bombers and other aircraft.

Chinese forces have also confronted US naval vessels conducting freedom of navigation operations near Chinese-held islands, as well as forces from Australia and countries that challenge China's claim to the entire strategic waterway.

China reportedly called together diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last month to seek their backing after a new diplomatic challenge from the US.

It's not clear if the meeting, reported Monday by Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper, yielded any immediate gains as talks between China and ASEAN remain in limbo.

The meeting in Beijing was called three weeks after the US rejected nearly all of Beijing's South China Sea claims and in effect sided with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in each of their territorial spats with Beijing. China responded by saying the US was trying to sow discord and was meddling in an Asian dispute to flex its muscles and incite a confrontation.

According to the newspaper report, during the meeting in Beijing in early August, a Chinese official expressed concern about the risk from military activities by non-regional countries, a term Beijing uses to refer to the US as well as its allies Japan and Australia.

The Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest after Chinese forces seized fishing equipment set up by Filipinos in disputed Scarborough Shoal.

China seized the shoal after a tense sea standoff in 2012, and the Philippines brought its disputes to international arbitration the following year. The tribunal in 2016 invalidated China's claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, but Beijing continues to ignore and defy the decision.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement Thursday that the Philippines also resolutely objected to China continuing to issue radio challenges to Philippine aircraft patrolling over the disputed waters.

A Chinese government spokesperson responded Friday that its coast guard was enforcing the law in Chinese waters, and that the Philippine aircraft had harmed China's sovereignty and threatened its security.

Vietnam has asked Malaysia to investigate a coast guard vessel that fired shots at two Vietnamese fishing boats, killing one fisherman.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said officers fired in self-defense after two Vietnamese boats entered Malaysian waters late on Aug. 16. Fishermen aboard threw gasoline bombs and tried to ram their vessel. One Vietnamese fisherman was killed and 18 others were detained, the agency said.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry asked Malaysia to investigate and reprimand officers who killed the Vietnamese citizen and treat other Vietnamese fishermen and their properties in a humane way.

The U.S. Navy says the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and its strike group entered the South China Sea earlier this month and have been carrying out air operations.

China routinely objects to US naval activity in the sea, especially when more than one strike group is present, as happened earlier this year, and when they involve operations with navies from other countries.

The strike group includes the carrier, its air wing, the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam, and the destroyers USS Mustin and USS Rafael Peralta.

The force conducted flight operations with fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and high-end maritime stability operations and exercises, its commander said in a news release.

Operations in the South China Sea continue to demonstrate enduring US commitment to allies and partners, and a cooperative approach to regional stability and freedom of the seas, the release said.

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