China Accuses U.S. of Provocation As Drill Tensions Spread to India, Taiwan

China has hit back at the United States over its criticism of South China Sea drills conducted by the People's Liberation Army, which has since held exercises near two other flashpoint regions in Asia.

Responding to the Pentagon's accusation last week that Chinese drills near the disputed Paracel Islands would "further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea," Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. "ignores the facts, reverses black and white, provokes regional relations and attempts to benefit from it."

"We are strongly dissatisfied and are resolutely against this," Ren said, emphasizing that the exercises were routine and not aimed at any other country.

The Paracel Islands are also claimed by Vietnam, one of the many Asia-Pacific states that the U.S. has grown closer to over the years as part of a push to contain a growing Chinese footprint in the region. The U.S. has, for its part, begun expanding its own presence in the South China Sea, holding rare dual-aircraft carrier drills earlier this week that the Navy said were not in response to any specific world events.

USS Ronald Reagan spokesperson Navy Lieutenant Commander Sean Brophy told Newsweek at the time, however, that China's criticisms of the U.S. exercises in the South China Sea "demonstrate how now more than ever, working alongside our allies and partners is vital to supporting regional stability."

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Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 5 and Carrier Air Wing 17 fly in formation over the Nimitz Carrier Strike Force, including the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, July 6. The rare show of force came amid increased activity by Chinese forces in disputed waters of the South China Sea. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Keenan Daniels/USS Nimitz/U.S. Navy

Among the most contentious points of the South China Sea area is near Taiwan, a self-ruling island claimed by the mainland Chinese government after the 1949 civil war. Washington has no official diplomatic ties to Taipei but provides military assistance that angers Beijing.

The South China Sea Probing Initiative, a project of Peking University's Institute of Ocean Research, has reported daily updates on the movement of U.S. aircraft in the region, and especially near Taiwan. On Thursday, it monitored a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker flying south of Taiwan and north of the Philippines.

That same day, Chinese Communist Party tabloid Global Times carried a state-run China Central Television report on People's Liberation Army 74th Group Army anti-aircraft exercises late Wednesday along the coastline of Guangdong province, located not far from Taiwan and Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous territory also the subject of worsening U.S.-China ties. The Chinese publication cited an expert discussing the increased U.S. air activity there in the context of the recent People's Liberation Army exercises.

That same day, the Chinese military released footage of another exercise, this time by the forces of the eastern Tibet Military District. Here, too, troops trained for air defense, with personnel seen using over-the-shoulder, towed and armored firepower at an altitude of nearly 15,500 feet.

These highlands are geopolitically sensitive, however, as the Aksai Chin region, located partially in Tibet, meets the India-controlled Ladakh at an ill-defined junction where the two sides have skirmished several times since May. At least one of these clashes left casualties, resulting in the deaths of 20 Indian troops and a yet-unknown number of Chinese soldiers.

The incident proved one of the worst between the two nuclear-armed nations in nearly half a century, raising tensions among the world's two largest populations. Both sides, however, have expressed a willingness to resolve the issue diplomatically at the Line of Actual Control and have communicated regularly throughout, holding talks at various levels.

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An air defense battalion of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Tibet Military District conducts live-fire training at an altitude of nearly 15,500 feet in this footage shared July 9. Tibet, under which part of the Aksai Chin region falls, meets India-controlled Ladakh at an ill-defined Himalayan junction that saw deadly clashes between the two powers in June. Chinese People's Liberation Army

"Following the consensus reached at the commander-level talks, the Chinese and India border troops have been taking effective measures to disengage at Galwan Valley and other areas in the western sector," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press briefing in Beijing on Thursday. "The overall situation at the China-India boundary is stable and ameliorating."

In New Delhi, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told reporters that both sides during their talks shared the view that "peace and tranquility are essential to the overall development of bilateral relations" and that it was "necessary to ensure at the earliest stage the complete disengagement of troops at the LaC and the de-escalation of the India-China border areas."

Washington has sided with New Delhi in the conflict. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that "the Chinese took incredibly aggressive action" at the disputed border and that "the Indians have done their best to respond to that."

India has joined the U.S.-led "free and open Indo-Pacific" framework that includes several other countries such as Australia and Japan, which have also witnessed growing frictions with China. With Japan now facing an unprecedented streak of Chinese military activity near the East China Sea's Pinnacle Islands claimed by both countries and Chinese threats over the potential acquisition of U.S. missiles, Tokyo have also held joint South China Sea exercises.