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China wraps up exercise with three warships in South China Sea

Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) - Three Chinese warships on Friday wrapped up a week of scheduled training exercises in the South China Sea, state media said, shortly after China's sole aircraft carrier tested its weapons in the disputed region.

The flotilla of warships, including a destroyer that can launch guided missiles, had been conducting drills since Friday last week and were now sailing to the eastern India Ocean and the Western Pacific, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Exercises by the Chinese ships, in particular the aircraft carrier Liaoning, in recent months have unnerved its neighbors, especially given long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The training included sudden attack drills and had been carried out successfully in poor sea conditions, Xinhua said.

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The drills were "without an arranged script" and "as close as possible to real combat", military affairs expert Yin Zhuo told the state broadcaster China Central Television.

Regular exercises by the Chinese navy in the high seas were an "unchangeable trend", Yin said, though he added that China's long-range naval capabilities were not sufficient to secure its interests in open waters. He did not elaborate.

China on Wednesday warned the United States against challenging its sovereignty in the South China Sea after reports that the United States was planning fresh naval patrols in the region.

The United States has criticized China's construction of man-made islands and its build-up of military facilities in the sea, and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free movement. The U.S. navy has conducted several "freedom of navigation" patrols through the waters.

China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim a portion of the waters that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds as well as with oil and gas deposits.

China says it is committed to freedom of navigation through the waters.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Robert Birsel)