Chinese Forces Flex Muscles in South China Sea During U.S. Navy Transit

The Chinese military held live-fire combat drills in the South China Sea as U.S. Navy warships entered the disputed waters on Sunday, according to China's state-owned media.

The Chinese Navy's Type 056A corvettes Enshi, Yongzhou and Guangyuan conducted "unscripted" combat training during a long-range, high-intensity exercise, People's Liberation Army news site js7tv reported Monday.

According to the South China Sea Probing Initiative, a Beijing think tank tracking U.S. navy activity, the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the USS Somerset sailed into the South China Sea on Sunday, coinciding with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller's Asia visit.

The USS Makin Island entered south of Taiwan, while the USS Somerset traversed the Philippines, a SCSPI graphic showed.

#Latest: The Makin Island ARG entered the #SouthChinaSea, Dec 6.
USS Makin Island (LHD-8) MMSI: 369970689
USS Somerset (LPH-25) MMSI: 369970850

— SCS Probing Initiative (@SCS_PI) December 6, 2020

The PLA news site, which is operated by state broadcaster China Central Television, said the navy exercise included missile interception and the destroying of a mock enemy warship. The report was accompanied by a video showing ships firing live ammunition off the coast of southern China.

Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times, which represents the most hawkish views of the leadership in Beijing, noted that the combat drills were conducted amid the U.S. Navy's transit of the South China Sea, which it described as "muscle-flexing."

"China should be prepared to confront the U.S. in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits [sic] no matter who sits in the White House," the party paper wrote Tuesday.

Beijing claims the U.S.' frequenting of the disputed South China Sea undermines regional stability, but the U.S. military has challenged territorial claims in the body of water under its Freedom of Navigation Program.

U.S. Navy vessels transit the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, where American spy planes have been recorded flying regular sorties.

Acting Secretary Miller's brief Asia trip included a visit to Indonesia on Monday and the Philippines on Tuesday. It will conclude at the Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii, according to a press release by the Department of Defense.

Miller, who was installed as defense secretary after President Donald Trump fired Mark Esper last month, made one of the Trump administration's final diplomatic calls in order to counter Chinese influence in the region.

"Acting Secretary Miller will meet with his counterparts and other senior officials to discuss the importance of the bilateral defense relationships and securing a free and open Indo-Pacific region," the DOD's statement said.

PLA Navy Conducts 7-Day Maritime Exercise
File photo: People's Liberation Army Navy vessels pictured during a seven-day maritime exercise in the East China Sea. The exercise was announced by China's Ministry of National Defense on November 29, 2020.